The Perfect Storm – The Rise and Fall of the United States Housing Market

As we approach the end of 2009 and look ahead to the coming year, we continue to keep our eyes fixated on the optimistic horizon of our financial futures hoping to dissipate the recent memories of the turbulent past. These traumatic recollections are primarily associated with the collapse of the U.S. housing market which triggered the current economic recession that our country is still desperately trying to dig itself out of. This hurricane of eroding property values started to come onto U.S. shores in the beginning of 2008 and continues to wreak havoc into this present day. Now as we look back in time today, it is almost impossible to not know someone who has not been adversely affected by the housing market meltdown in the United States.

A financial storm of this magnitude did not form overnight. There were many years of reckless spending, poor financial planning, and irresponsible lending that synergistically blended together to create this potent financial catastrophe. To simplify things however, the crux of the blame can be cast upon three equally contributing parties: greedy lenders and naive buyers. These two factors combined with a lack of financial oversight by the federal government and affiliated regulating agencies formed into what could best be described as the “perfect storm” scenario.

The initial events that set into motion the collapse of the domestic housing market began immediately following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Just one year prior, the federal funds interest rate which establishes the baseline for lenders borrowing from one another was 6.50%. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 prompted the Federal Reserve to start slashing interest rates in fearful speculation that awful financial repercussions would quickly devastate the economy.

As the federal funds rate continued to be reduced down to 1.0% over the next two years, this provided a catalyst to home builders and developers as they increased land purchases and started massive residential and commercial housing projects. During this same time that interest rates were being reduced to historic lows, members of congress were coercing the executives overseeing the giant lending institutions such as Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and many others to extend their lending policies beyond their normal credit worthiness limits so that consumers who would not normally qualify for a mortgage could achieve the American dream of home ownership. To appease these new found congressional pressures, lenders soon devised up new hybrid and exotic mortgage financing schemes. These new financing options featured adjustable rate mortgages with no money down requirements, and loans that financed home loans for up to 125% of their appraised worth with the naive thought process that property values would continue to increase indefinitely into the foreseeable future.

All of these converging forces united together to form the “perfect storm” that struck the U.S. housing industry with full force beginning in 2008. Soon many of those buyers who were enticed by the attractive financing options ended up as disheveled victims similar to those homeless survivors displaced after a tragic hurricane strikes. Those teaser mortgage rates which persuaded millions of home buyers and builders to spend beyond their means would soon skyrocket upwards as the Federal Reserve began to understand what was taking place and would try to counteract the financial chaos with series of organized interest rate increases. By this time however, it was too late to escape the impending doom.

This devastating combination of greedy lenders, naive buyers, and federal regulating agency members asleep at the switch undermined the very foundation of all of the housing growth that had been constructed over the previous years. In the wake of this storm’s aftermath were especially hard hit areas such as parts of California, Florida, Nevada, and Arizona where overbuilt communities and speculation reached extreme levels.This grossly unbalanced financial leveraging scenario between the buyer with little to no equity down and the fully financed lender couldn’t last forever and it didn’t. Buyers soon wanted no part of rapidly depreciating neighborhoods and sellers flooded the market but no one would come to their rescue and many of them were forced to go belly up into foreclosures or short sales if they were so fortunate.

The rest as they say is history. A recent Zillow study of Floridian residents showed homeowners who purchased their home in the last two years ran a 77% chance of their mortgage being upside down. This is only a small fraction of the devastation that has been cast across the country. Let’s hope the worst is over.

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