Future of the Housing Market

Home prices increased from April to May of this year by 1.3 percent, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index. The credit for this largely goes to the government's home buyer tax credit, which expired at the end of April.

The general thought out there seems to be that the housing market has been bolstered by the tax credit--which was the point--and now will come tumbling down again. Maybe not, says University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan. Even the home price index report points out that May is historically a strong month for home sales.

The Home Buyer Tax Credit was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which passed in February of 2009. The tax credit was originally an incentive for first time home buyers, but later was extended to include qualifying home owners purchasing a new home. Reporting on the New York Times Economix blog, Mulligan suggests the math is faulty when it comes to crediting this tax credit for the latest rise in the housing market.

Mulligan cites Internal Revenue Service reports that show that the average home buyer's tax credit was around $6,000, not much when compared to the price of a home. Also, only $19 billion in tax credits have been claimed so far, which Mulligan considers to be a drop in the housing bucket when compared to the $14 trillion worth of owner-occupied houses in the United States.

Mulligan contends that the impact of the credit isn't big enough to bolster the housing market. Not as many people took advantage of it as could have and it needs to be evaluated in the context of the larger market. Yet, real estate agents, mortgage lenders and economists are fearing the worst now that the home buyer credit will expire.

It is reported that nationally home prices have risen 5.1 percent from the bottom of the housing bust in April 2009. However, overall house prices are 29 percent lower than the height of the housing bubble in July 2006. While the percentages are vastly different across the county--Las Vegas home prices are still dropping--the housing market seems to be one sector of the economy where steady progress has been made.

Recovery can be agonizingly slow and panic can be easier to feel than patience. But as Mulligan points out, housing is a long term investment. Pinning the hopes of the housing market on the one-time, nominal return of a tax credit may not be realistic. Maybe time will show it to be the tiny jolt the recovering housing market needed, not the sugar high of a falling market.


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