Did you know that the big banks have a way to legally steal your house from you even if you don’t owe a single penny on your mortgage? Big banks and hedge funds are buying billions of dollars worth of tax liens from local governments all over the nation, and they are ruthlessly foreclosing on homeowners when they can’t pay the absolutely ridiculous penalties and legal fees that are tacked on to the original tax bill. As you will see below, one 76-year-old man lost his $197,000 home that he fully owned over a $134 tax bill. A 95-year-old woman lost her $300,000 home over a $44.79 tax bill. This is a very, very dirty way to make money, and the predatory financial institutions that are involved in this business definitely do not want to talk about it.
Of course much of the blame should also be shouldered by the local governments that are coldly selling these tax liens to these ruthless predators. If local governments want to collect their tax bills, they should do it themselves. They should not be auctioning off their tax liens to cold-hearted financial institutions that are very eager to commit a legal version of highway robbery.
A few days ago, the Washington Post reported on the tragic story of a 76-year-old former Marine named Bennie Coleman. Coleman had originally purchased his home with cash, but that didn’t stop tax lien predators from stealing his home over an unpaid $134 property tax bill…
On the day Bennie Coleman lost his house, the day armed U.S. marshals came to his door and ordered him off the property, he slumped in a folding chair across the street and watched the vestiges of his 76 years hauled to the curb.
Movers carted out his easy chair, his clothes, his television. Next came the things that were closest to his heart: his Marine Corps medals and photographs of his dead wife, Martha. The duplex in Northeast Washington that Coleman bought with cash two decades earlier was emptied and shuttered. By sundown, he had nowhere to go.
All because he didn’t pay a $134 property tax bill.
So why couldn’t he pay such a small bill?
Well, as the Post explained, these big banks and hedge funds keep tacking on interest, penalties and legal fees until the tax bills are many times the size that they originally were. When the distressed homeowners can’t come up with thousands of dollars to pay off the debts, the big banks and the hedge funds move in for the kill…
For decades, the District placed liens on properties when homeowners failed to pay their bills, then sold those liens at public auctions to mom-and-pop investors who drew a profit by charging owners interest on top of the tax debt until the money was repaid.
But under the watch of local leaders, the program has morphed into a predatory system of debt collection for well-financed, out-of-town companies that turned $500 delinquencies into $5,000 debts — then foreclosed on homes when families couldn’t pay, a Washington Post investigation found.
In particular, hedge funds have discovered that this is a great way to make huge piles of money. The following is a short excerpt from a CNN article that was published back in May…
With buyers identified only by numbers or unrelated names, the fragmented, unregulated industry is opaque. Even the market’s size is debated — $15 billion a year, according to Howard Liggett, the chief executive of Distressed Real Estate Consulting Services, or $5 billion a year, according to the National Tax Lien Association, a trade group. While returns are a closely kept secret, investors typically make between 2.5% and 10% a year, or in the low teens for larger buys.
“The hedge funds are chasing yield in this business” says Albert Friedman, a principal at Alterna Capital, an alternative investment firm in Boca Raton that buys tax liens.
Insiders estimate hedge funds now control 40% of the tax-lien market, from under 5% five years ago, with regional banks, obscure partnerships sporting names like God’s ATM LLC, and mom-and-pop investors making up the rest.
And a number of “too big to fail” banks are involved in this business as well.
In a previous article, I described exactly how this works…
1) The big Wall Street banks set up or invest in shell companies that will disguise who they really are.
2) These shell companies run around and buy up all of the tax liens that they can get their hands on.
3) Predatory levels of interest (in some states as high as 18 percent), fees and penalties rapidly pile up on these unpaid tax liens. The affected homeowners quickly end up owing much, much more than what the original tax bills were for.
4) If the collecting firm has to hire a lawyer, then that gets charged to the homeowner as well. The bloated legal fees for some of these lawyers can end up being the biggest expense of all.
5) If the tax liens do not get paid, the collecting firms move in to foreclose as quickly as legally possible.
According to the Huffington Post, Wall Street banks such as Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase have been gobbling up several hundred thousand tax liens from local governments. It appears that “distressed housing markets” are being particularly targeted.
Many of these tax liens are sold in online auctions, so it is unclear if many local government officials even realize who the big money behind many of these shell companies is.
These big financial institutions may consider this to be “good business”, but the truth is that they are absolutely shattering lives in the process. This is particularly true when it comes to older people that do not fully understand what is happening to them. Just consider the following examples from a recent Washington Post article…
A 48-year-old math teacher paid his taxes in 2007, but the tax office took his $1,400 payment and applied it to the wrong house, crediting an entirely different taxpayer.
A 58-year-old bank employee almost lost her house in 2010 because the tax office mistakenly sent bills and notices to a wooded lot across from a strip shopping center in Virginia — 12 times.
A 69-year-old hat designer was given the wrong payoff amount and ended up in court to save her property, owned by her family since 1943.
Those homeowners found out about the mistakes in time to fight. Ninety-five-year-old Daisy Dolsey, living in a nursing home and struggling with Alzheimer’s, wasn’t so lucky: She lost her $300,000 house over a $44.79 tax debt even after she paid her taxes.
Doesn’t that just sicken you?
And then the big banks and the hedge funds have the gall to wonder why people dislike them so much.
In this day and age, large financial institutions have become more cold-hearted than ever before.
Always make sure that your property taxes are fully paid, and always keep a paper record of all financial transactions involving your home.
If you do slip up and make a mistake at some point, there is a very good chance that a ruthless financial institution will try to swoop in and steal your home right out from under your nose.
There are very few segments of the U.S. economy that are more heavily affected by interest rates than the real estate market is. When mortgage rates reached all-time low levels late last year, it fueled a little “mini-bubble” in housing which was greatly celebrated by the mainstream media. Unfortunately, the tide is now turning. Interest rates are starting to move up steadily, even though the Federal Reserve has been trying very hard to keep that from happening. A few weeks ago, when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested that the Fed may start to “taper” the rate of quantitative easing eventually, the bond market had a conniption and the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries shot up dramatically. In an attempt to calm the market, the Fed stopped all talk of a “taper” and that helped settle things down for a brief period of time. But now the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries is starting to rise aggressively again. Today it closed at 2.71 percent, and many analysts believe that it will go much higher. This is important for the housing market, because mortgage rates tend to follow the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries. And if mortgage rates keep rising like this, another great real estate crash is inevitable.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that he could use quantitative easing to control long-term interest rates. He assured us that he could force mortgage rates down for an extended period of time and that this would lead to a housing recovery.
But now the Fed is losing control of long-term interest rates. If this continues, either the Federal Reserve will have to substantially increase the rate of quantitative easing or else watch mortgage rates rise to absolutely crippling levels.
Three months ago, the average rate on a 30 year mortgage was 3.35 percent. It has shot up more than a full point since then…
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average on the 30-year loan rose to 4.39% from 4.31% last week. Rates are a full percentage point higher than in early May.
And as the chart below shows, mortgage rates have a lot more room to go up…
As mortgage rates go up, so do monthly payments.
And monthly payments are already beginning to soar. Just check out this chart.
So what happens if mortgage rates eventually return to “normal” levels?
Well, it would be absolutely devastating to the housing market. As mortgage rates rise, less people will be able to afford to buy homes at current prices. This will force home prices down.
To a large degree, whether or not someone can afford to buy a particular home is determined by interest rates. The following numbers come from one of my previous articles…
A year ago, the 30 year rate was sitting at 3.66 percent. The monthly payment on a 30 year, $300,000 mortgage at that rate would be $1374.07.
If the 30 year rate rises to 8 percent, the monthly payment on a 30 year, $300,000 mortgage at that rate would be $2201.29.
Does 8 percent sound crazy to you?
It shouldn’t. 8 percent was considered to be normal back in the year 2000.
And we are already seeing rising rates impact the market. The number of mortgage applications has fallen for 11 of the past 12 weeks, and this has been the biggest 3 month decline in mortgage applications that we have witnessed since 2009.
Rising interest rates will also have a dramatic impact on other areas of the real estate industry as well. For example, public construction spending is now the lowest that it has been since 2006.
And I find the chart posted below particularly interesting. As a Christian, I am saddened that construction spending by religious institutions has dropped to a stunningly low level…
So what does all of this mean?
Well, unless interest rates reverse course it appears that we are in the very early stages of another great real estate crash.
Only this time, it might not be so easy for the big banks to swoop in and foreclose on everyone. Just check out the radical step that one city in California is taking to stop bank foreclosures…
Richmond is the first city in the country to take the controversial step of threatening to use eminent domain, the power to take private property for public use. But other cities have also explored the idea.
Banks, the real estate industry and Wall Street are vehemently opposed to the idea, calling it “unconstitutional” and a violation or property rights, and something that will likely cause a flurry of lawsuits.
Richmond has partnered with San Francisco-based Mortgage Resolution Partners on the plan. Letters have been sent to 32 servicers and trustees who hold the underwater loans. If they refuse the city’s offer, officials will condemn and seize the mortgages, then help homeowners to refinance.
If more communities around the nation start using eminent domain to stop foreclosures, that is going to change the cost of doing business for mortgage lenders and it is likely going to mean more expensive mortgages for all the rest of us.
In any event, all of this talk about a “bright future” for real estate is just a bunch of nonsense.
You can’t buy a home if you don’t have a good job. And as I wrote about the other day, there are about 6 million less full-time jobs in America today than there was back in 2007.
You can’t get blood out of a stone, and you can’t buy a house on a part-time income. The lack of breadwinner jobs is one of the primary reasons why the homeownership rate in the United States is now at its lowest level in nearly 18 years.
And we aren’t going to produce good jobs if our economy is not growing. And economic growth in the U.S. has been anemic at best, even if you believe the official numbers.
We were originally told that the GDP growth number for the first quarter of 2013 was 2.4 percent. Then it was revised down to 1.8 percent. Now it has been revised down to 1.1 percent.
So precisely what are we supposed to believe?
Overall, since Barack Obama has been president the average yearly rate of growth for the U.S. economy has been just over 1 percent.
That isn’t very good at all.
But remember, the government numbers have been heavily manipulated to look good.
The reality is even worse.
According to the alternate GDP numbers compiled by John Williams of shadowstats.com, the U.S. economy has continually been in a recession since 2005.
And now interest rates are rising rapidly, and that is very bad news for the U.S. economy.
I hope that you have your seatbelts buckled up tight, because it is going to be a bumpy ride.
Did you actually think that mortgage rates were going to stay at all-time lows forever? Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was able to grossly distort the market for a while by buying up massive amounts of government bonds and mortgage-backed securities, but there was no way in the world that the market was going to stay that distorted forever. It simply does not make sense to give American families 30 year mortgages at a fixed interest rate of less than four percent when the real rate of inflation is somewhere around eight to ten percent and the mortgage delinquency rate in the United States is 9.72 percent. If we actually did have “free markets” and they were behaving rationally, mortgage rates would be far, far higher. Well, now that the Fed has indicated that they are going to be starting to “taper” QE at some point, bond yields have skyrocketed and this is rapidly pushing up mortgage rates. According to Freddie Mac, we just witnessed the largest weekly increase in mortgage rates in 26 years. Sadly, this is only just the beginning. Unless the Federal Reserve intervenes, mortgage rates are going to continue to try to revert to normal.
When mortgage rates go up, so do monthly payments. All of a sudden, families that could afford the monthly payments on a $300,000 mortgage are no longer able to do so. This is why when mortgage rates rise, it tends to push housing prices down.
If rates continue to go up, it is going to become increasingly difficult to sell your house. Less people will be able to afford the monthly payments as rates rise. Many families will have to end up reducing their selling prices.
And right now we are watching rates rise at a rate that we have not seen since the 1980s. According to Freddie Mac, the average rate of interest on a 30 year fixed-rate mortgage jumped by more than half a percentage point just last week…
The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose from 3.93 percent last week to 4.46 percent this week; the highest it has been since the week of July 28, 2011. This represents the largest weekly increase for the 30-year fixed since the week ended April 17, 1987.
A year ago, the 30 year rate was sitting at 3.66 percent.
The monthly payment on a $300,000 mortgage at that rate would be $1374.07.
Currently, the 30 year rate is sitting at 4.46 percent.
The monthly payment on a $300,000 mortgage at that rate would be $1512.93.
If the 30 year rate rises to 7 percent, the monthly payment on a $300,000 mortgage would be $1995.91.
Does 7 percent sound crazy to you?
As the chart posted below demonstrates, a 7 percent mortgage was considered “normal” a decade ago…
As you can see, mortgage rates have nowhere to go but up.
And as they go up, they are going to absolutely crush any semblance of a “housing recovery”.
Meanwhile, Americans continue to get poorer.
This week we learned that real per capita disposable income plunged at an annualized rate of 9.21 percent in the first quarter of 2013.
That is absolutely astounding. We haven’t seen anything like that since the darkest days of the last recession.
If Americans do not have money to spend, that is going to hurt every industry – including housing.
And already we are seeing pain in the housing market. For example, the number of mortgage applications has fallen by 29 percent over the last eight weeks.
And rising rates are also causing a lot of families to turn to adjustable rate mortgages.
They played a major role in the last housing crash, and according to CNBC they are now making a comeback…
After hovering around record lows for the past few years, mortgage rates are rising dramatically. That has consumers not only shopping more but also considering adjustable rate mortgages, which offer lower rates and lower monthly payments.
These ARMs, many requiring interest payments only, were popular during the latest housing boom but quickly fell out of favor when safer, fixed-rate loan rates fell to record lows.
So what does all of this mean?
It means that the tiny little “mini-bubble” that we have seen in housing this year is rapidly coming to an end.
It also means that it is going to become far more difficult to buy or sell a house. Monthly payments are going to go up substantially, and many homeowners are going to find that they are not going to be able to sell their homes for what they had anticipated.
If you are already in the process of buying a house, hopefully you locked in a really good rate while you could. Those record low mortgage rates sure were nice, and we will probably never see them again.
Now we are headed for a very painful “adjustment” thanks to Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve. They should never have distorted the housing market so much, and now we are all going to suffer the consequences.
New home sales in the United States are on pace to set a brand new all-time record low in 2011. This will be the third year in a row that new home sales have set a new record low. Sadly, this is yet another sign that the U.S. economy continues to grow weaker. Back in 2005, more than four times as many new homes were being sold as are being sold today. The home building industry is one of the central pillars of the U.S. economy, and the fact that we are going to set another new record low for home sales in 2011 is a really bad sign for those hoping for an economic recovery. Unlike most of those that work in the financial industry, those that build new homes produce something of lasting value for American families. In addition, millions of Americans have traditionally made a solid living by building and selling new homes. But today the market for new homes has totally dried up and large numbers of those jobs are disappearing. Some of the reasons for this include high unemployment, a glut of foreclosures on the market and the tightening of lending standards on home loans. In order for the U.S. to have anything resembling a healthy economy again, we are going to need a revival in the sale of new homes.
But unfortunately, it looks like things are getting even worse. In August, the number of new home sales declined for the fourth month in a row. That is a very troubling sign because typically summer is the best time for new home sales.
Celia Chen, the director of housing economics at Moody’s Analytics, is saying the following about the dismal numbers….
“With job growth at a standstill, the stock market swinging wildly, Congress wrangling over the debt ceiling and the euro zone’s problems sending consumer confidence down, sales of new homes are slipping from an already weak pace.”
When you take a close look at the numbers, it really is shocking to see how far we have fallen.
Back in 1963, the U.S. Census Bureau began monitoring new home sales. Prior to the most recent economic downturn, the record low for new home sales happened in 1982.
In that year, only 412,000 new homes were sold.
Well, that record was broken in 2009.
Then it was broken again in 2010.
And it will be broken again in 2011.
This year, we are on pace to see only 303,000 new homes sold in America.
That is beyond pathetic.
To get an idea of just how bad that is, just check out the following chart which comes from the Calculated Risk blog. The first number is the year, the second number is the total number of new homes sold during that year, and the third number is the total number of new homes sold through the month of August during that year. The number of new homes sold during 2011 is a projected number….
2000: 877 608
2001: 908 644
2002: 973 670
2003: 1,086 759
2004: 1,203 841
2005: 1,283 906
2006: 1,051 756
2007: 776 577
2008: 485 365
2009: 375 261
2010: 323 231
2011: 303 211
As you can see, this will be the fifth year in a row that new home sales have fallen.
And yet the folks on television keep telling us that the recession is over.
The frightening thing is that new home sales are this anemic even with mortgage rates at historic lows.
So what is going to happen once mortgage rates start going up?
It is hard to imagine new home sales getting even worse than they are now.
And we desperately need to get things turned around. New home construction is very good for the economy.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, each new home that is constructed creates the equivalent of 3 jobs for an entire year and generates approximately $90,000 in taxes.
So what is holding things back?
Well, for one thing, if people do not have good jobs they cannot afford to buy new homes.
Back in 1969, 95 percent of all men between the ages of 25 and 54 had a job. In July, only 81.2 percent of men in that age group had a job.
That is a massive problem that needs to be solved.
Unfortunately, our leaders continue to allow millions of our jobs to be shipped overseas.
If you gathered together all of the people in the United States that are “officially unemployed” right now, they would constitute the 68th largest country in the world. It would be a nation larger than Greece.
Secondly, there is a gigantic glut of foreclosed homes on the market right now that is competing with new homes for the few qualified home buyers that are out there.
It is absolutely shocking how many vacant homes there are in some areas of the country.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18 percent of all homes in the state of Florida are sitting vacant. That figure is 63 percent larger than it was just ten years ago.
In the city of Detroit alone, there are more than 33,000 abandoned homes.
Until the number of vacant homes goes down, there is just not going to be a need in the marketplace for a lot of new homes.
Sadly, it looks like another huge wave of foreclosures could be on the way.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, at least 8 million Americans are currently at least one month behind on their mortgage payments.
That is more than a bit frightening.
Thirdly, lending standards on home loans have dramatically changed.
Five or six years ago, if you were breathing you could get a home loan.
Even the family dog could get a home loan.
But now the pendulum has swung to the opposite end of the spectrum.
Applying for a mortgage today is like getting a series of proctology exams from a very rude and very uncaring doctor.
Many mortgage lenders today will deny you at the slightest hint of a problem.
Even if you have a very high income, near perfect credit, very little debt and a long history of financial responsibility there is still a very good chance that you will be turned down.
If you don’t believe this, just start talking to people that have applied for home loans lately.
A ton of pending home sales are being cancelled because potential home buyers simply cannot get approved.
Until some sort of “balance” is restored to the mortgage lending process, this is going to continue to be a major problem.
It would be nice if I could tell you that things are going to get better soon, but the truth is that there are all kinds of signs that the U.S. economy is getting even worse and there are all kinds of signs that the global financial system is on the verge of a massive nervous breakdown.
So if you make a living by building or selling new homes, you might want to find other ways to supplement your income for a while.
Things are not going to turn around significantly any time soon.
Right now, interest rates are near historic lows. The U.S. government is able to borrow gigantic mountains of money for next to nothing. U.S. consumers are still able to get home loans, car loans and student loans at ridiculously low interest rates. When this low interest rate environment changes (and it will), it is going to absolutely devastate the U.S. economy. Without low interest rates, the U.S. financial system dies. When it comes to borrowing money, it is the rate of interest that causes the pain. If you could borrow as much money as you wanted at a zero rate of interest for the rest of your life you would never, ever have a debt problem. But when there is a cost to borrowing money that changes things. The higher the rate of interest goes, the more painful debt becomes.
The only reason that U.S. government finances have not fallen apart completely already is because the federal government is still able to borrow huge amounts of money very cheaply. If interest rates on U.S. government debt even return just to “average” levels, it is going to be absolutely catastrophic.
So what happens if rates go above “average”?
The reality is that if there is a major crisis that causes interest rates on U.S. Treasuries to go well beyond “normal” levels it is going to cause a complete and total collapse.
In 2010, the U.S. government paid out just $413 billion in interest even though the national debt soared to 14 trillion dollars by the end of the year.
That means that the U.S. government paid somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 percent interest for the year.
Considering how rapidly the U.S. dollar has been declining and how much money printing the Federal Reserve has been doing, a rate of interest that low is absolutely ridiculous.
The shorter the term, the more ridiculous the rates of interest on U.S. Treasuries are.
For example, the rate of interest on 3 month U.S. Treasuries right now is just barely above zero.
The Federal Reserve has been playing all kinds of games in an attempt to keep interest rates on U.S. government debt low, and so far they have been pretty successful at it.
But they aren’t going to be able to do it forever.
Up until now, other nations and investors around the world have continued to participate in the system even though they know that the Federal Reserve is cheating.
However, there are signs that a lot of investors are finally getting fed up and are ready to walk away from U.S. government debt.
China has been dumping short-term U.S. government debt. Russia has been dumping U.S. government debt. Pimco has been dumping U.S. government debt.
Others are taking things even farther.
In fact, there are some investors that plan on cashing in on the loss of confidence in U.S. Treasuries. Renowned investor Jim Rogers says that he is now going to be shorting 30 year U.S. government bonds.
Just check out what Rogers recently told CNBC….
“I cannot imagine or conceive lending money to the United States government for 30-years at 3, 4, 5 or 6 percent —you pick a number — in U.S. dollars”
And he is right. Who in the world would be stupid enough to loan the U.S. government money at a 4 or 5 percent rate of interest for the next 30 years?
Actually, most U.S. government debt is financed in the short-term these days. In fact, the U.S. government issues a higher percentage of short-term debt than any other industrialized nation.
This trend really got started during the Clinton administration. Back then they figured out that the U.S. could reduce its borrowing costs substantially by relying much more heavily on short-term debt. The Bush and Obama administrations have continued this trend.
So these days the U.S. government constantly has huge amounts of debt that are maturing and that need to be rolled over.
This is great as long as interest rates stay very, very low.
But when interest rates rise the whole game will change.
In a recent article, Pat Buchanan explained that the Obama administration is being completely unrealistic when it assumes that interest rates on U.S. government debt will stay incredibly low over the next decade….
“The average rate of interest the Fed has had to pay to borrow for the last two decades has been 5.7 percent. However, President Obama is projecting the cost of money at only 2.5 percent.
A return to the normal Fed rate would, by 2020, add $4.9 trillion to the cumulative deficit”
Most Americans really cannot grasp how incredibly low interest rates are right now.
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.
The following chart shows how interest rates on 10 year U.S. Treasury bonds have declined over the last several decades.
As confidence in the U.S. dollar and in U.S. government debt declines, interest rates will go up.
In fact, there are troubling signs that we are starting to see a move in that direction right now. Last week, the yield on 5 year U.S. Treasuries experienced the biggest one week percentage jump ever recorded.
The big danger is that the political wrangling in Washington D.C. will start to cause a panic. The managing director of Standard & Poor’s recently told Reuters that if the U.S. government starts defaulting on debt at the beginning of August, the credit rating on U.S. Treasury bonds that are supposed to mature on August 4th will go from AAA all the way down to D….
Chambers, who is also the chairman of S&P’s sovereign ratings committee, told Reuters on Tuesday that U.S. Treasury bills maturing on August 4 would be rated ‘D’ if the government fails to honor them. Unaffected Treasuries would be downgraded as well, but not as sharply, he said.
“If the U.S. government misses a payment, it goes to D,” Chambers said. “That would happen right after August 4, when the bills mature, because they don’t have a grace period.”
When a credit rating gets slashed, interest rates on that debt can go up dramatically.
Just ask the citizens of Greece.
Today, the interest rate on 2 year Greek bonds is over 26 percent.
You are delusional if you believe that something like that can never happen here.
Right now the U.S. national debt is completely and totally out of control. If the U.S. government had to start paying interest rates of 10, 15 or 20 percent to borrow money it would be a total nightmare.
This year the U.S. government will have income of about 2.2 trillion dollars.
If in future years the U.S. government is spending a trillion or a trillion and a half dollars just on interest on the national debt, then how in the world is it going to be possible to even run the government, much less balance the budget?
But rising interest rates would not just devastate the federal government.
It would become much more expensive for state and local governments to borrow money.
Student loans would become much more expensive.
Car loans would become much more expensive.
Home loans would become out of reach for everyone except the very wealthy.
As we saw during the housing crash of a few years ago, rising interest rates can absolutely wipe homeowners out.
On a standard home loan, if you change the rate of interest from 5 percent to 10 percent you increase the mortgage payment by approximately 50 percent.
If you change the rate of interest from 5 percent to 15 percent, you roughly double the mortgage payment.
As the 30 year fixed rate mortgage chart below shows, interest rates are near historic lows right now….
Keep in mind that even with such ridiculously low interest rates the U.S. real estate market has been deader than a doornail.
So what would a significant spike in interest rates do to it?
When all of these low interest rates go away the entire financial system is going to change dramatically.
A significant spike in interest rates would wipe out U.S. government finances, it would push state and local governments all over the country to the brink of bankruptcy, it would bring economic activity to a standstill and it would destroy any hopes for a housing recovery.
This country, and in particular the federal government, is enslaved to debt but right now we are not feeling the full pain of that debt because interest rates are so low.
If you want to know when things are really going to start coming apart, just keep an eye on interest rates. When they really start spiking you can start sounding the alarm.
The truth is that the state of the economy is going to continue to get worse. Our debt is growing every single day and our country is getting poorer every single day. When interest rates start surging it is going to start knocking over a lot of dominoes.
I hope you are getting prepared for when that happens.
Unless you have been asleep or hiding under a rock for the past five years, you already know that we are experiencing the worst real estate crisis that the U.S. has ever seen. Home prices in the United States have fallen 33 percent from the peak of the housing bubble, which is more than they fell during the Great Depression. Those that decided to buy a house in 2005 or 2006 are really hurting right now. Just think about it. Could you imagine paying off a $400,000 mortgage on a home that is now only worth $250,000? Millions of Americans are now living through that kind of financial hell. Sadly, most analysts expect U.S. home prices to go down even further. Despite the “best efforts” of those running our economy, unemployment is still rampant. The number of middle class jobs continues to decline year after year, but it takes at least a middle class income to buy a decent home. In addition, financial institutions have really tightened up lending standards and have made it much more difficult to get home loans. Back during the wild days of the housing bubble, the family cat could get a zero-down mortgage, but today the pendulum has swung very far in the other direction and now it is really, really tough to get a home loan. Meanwhile, the number of foreclosures and distressed properties continues to soar. So with a ton of homes on the market and not a lot of buyers the power is firmly in the hands of those looking to buy a house.
So will home prices continue to go down? Possibly. But they won’t go down forever. At some point the inflation that is already affecting many other segments of the economy will affect home prices as well. That doesn’t mean that it will be middle class American families that will be buying up all the homes. An increasing percentage of homes are being purchased by investors or by foreigners. There are a lot of really beautiful homes in the United States, and wealthy people from all over the globe love to buy a house in America.
But because of the factors mentioned above, it is quite possible that U.S. home prices could go down another 10 or 20 percent, especially if the economy gets worse.
So what is the right time to buy a house?
Nobody really knows for sure.
Mortgage rates are near record lows right now and there are some great deals to be had in many areas of the country. But that does not mean that you won’t be able to get the same home for even less 6 months or a year from now.
In any event, this truly has been a really trying time for the U.S. housing market. Hordes of builders, construction workers, contractors, real estate agents and mortgage professionals have been put out of work by this downturn. The housing industry is one of the core pillars of the economy, and so a recovery in home sales is desperately needed.
The following are 20 really wacky statistics about the U.S. real estate crisis….
#1 According to Zillow, 28.4 percent of all single-family homes with a mortgage in the United States are now underwater.
#2 Zillow has also announced that the average price of a home in the U.S. is about 8 percent lower than it was a year ago and that it continues to fall about 1 percent a month.
#3 U.S. home prices have now fallen a whopping 33% from where they were at during the peak of the housing bubble.
#4 During the first quarter of 2011, home values declined at the fastest rate since late 2008.
#5 According to Zillow, more than 55 percent of all single-family homes with a mortgage in Atlanta have negative equity and more than 68 percent of all single-family homes with a mortgage in Phoenix have negative equity.
#6 U.S. home values have fallen an astounding 6.3 trillion dollars since the housing crisis first began.
#7 In February, U.S. housing starts experienced their largest decline in 27 years.
#8 New home sales in the United States are now down 80% from the peak in July 2005.
#9 Historically, the percentage of residential mortgages in foreclosure in the United States has tended to hover between 1 and 1.5 percent. Today, it is up around 4.5 percent.
#10 According to RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings in the United States are projected to increase by another 20 percent in 2011.
#11 It is estimated that 25% of all mortgages in Miami-Dade County are “in serious distress and headed for either foreclosure or short sale“.
#12 Two years ago, the average U.S. homeowner that was being foreclosed upon had not made a mortgage payment in 11 months. Today, the average U.S. homeowner that is being foreclosed upon has not made a mortgage payment in 17 months.
#13 Sales of foreclosed homes now represent an all-time record 23.7% of the market.
#14 4.5 million home loans are now either in some stage of foreclosure or are at least 90 days delinquent.
#15 According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, at least 8 million Americans are currently at least one month behind on their mortgage payments.
#16 In September 2008, 33 percent of Americans knew someone who had been foreclosed upon or who was facing the threat of foreclosure. Today that number has risen to 48 percent.
#17 During the first quarter of 2011, less new homes were sold in the U.S. than in any three month period ever recorded.
#18 According to a recent census report, 13% of all homes in the United States are currently sitting empty.
#19 In 1996, 89 percent of Americans believed that it was better to own a home than to rent one. Today that number has fallen to 63 percent.
#20 According to Zillow, the United States has been in a “housing recession” for 57 straight months without an end in sight.
So should we be confident that the folks in charge are doing everything that they can to turn all of this around?
Sadly, the truth is that our “authorities” really do not know what they are doing. The following is what Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke had to say about the housing market back in 2006….
“Housing markets are cooling a bit. Our expectation is that the decline in activity or the slowing in activity will be moderate, that house prices will probably continue to rise.”
Since that time U.S. housing prices have experienced their biggest decline ever.
At some point widespread inflation is going to reverse the trend we are experiencing right now, but that doesn’t mean that most American families will be able to afford to buy homes when that happens.
As I have written about previously, the middle class in America is shrinking. The number of Americans on food stamps has increased by 18 million over the past four years and today 47 million Americans (a new all-time record) are living in poverty.
Millions of our jobs are being shipped overseas, the cost of living keeps going up and an increasing percentage of American families are losing faith in the economy.
More Americans than ever are talking about “the coming economic collapse” as if it is a foregone conclusion. Our federal government is swamped with debt, our state and local governments are swamped with debt and our economic infrastructure is being ripped to shreds by globalization.
So sadly, no, there are not a whole lot of reasons to be optimistic at this point about a major economic turnaround.
The U.S. economy is going down the toilet and the coming collapse is going to be incredibly painful for all of us.
Hopefully when that collapse comes you will have somewhere warm and safe to call home. If not, hopefully someone will have compassion on you. In any event, we all need to buckle up because it is going to be a wild ride.