It won’t be easy street in the home real estate market anytime soon.

Sinking home prices leading to lower home ownership rates in the USAIt’s official: Average U.S. home prices have now “achieved” quite a milestone. They’re right back down to where they were in 2003.

In other words, eight years and a ton of turbulence later, we’re back where we started on home prices. Talk about a nothing-doing return on investment!

But for many homebuyers it’s far worse than an investment with zero return … what’s happened is hardly the same thing as keeping money in a savings account in the bank at a puny 0.5% annual interest. Because as we all know, over this period home prices peaked, then plummeted.

Unfortunately, those who chose to jump in during the midst of the homebuying frenzy find themselves underwater in a big way with those mortgages.

This negative equity phenomenon is a huge issue, according to industry experts. In fact, business intelligence and analytics company CoreLogic is reporting that nearly one in four mortgages is now in a negative equity situation.

Mark Fleming, CoreLogic’s chief economist, goes even further. “It’s not just negative equity that we … focus on, but it’s also insufficient equity. All the people who have those primary loans that are somewhere between 80% and 100% LTV [loan-to-value] also basically don’t have access to the credit markets.”

The vast majority of homeowners who are underwater with their mortgages are continuing to pay on them. So far, so good. But the problem is that most of these owners are really underwater – to the tune of 30% or more based on the latest home value appraisals.

Here’s the stark truth: These owners will be stuck with their homes for years and years … and unable to sell them unless they’re willing to take a big loss. Given the precarious state of family finances in many households, that’s an unrealistic option at best.

It’s also a recipe for housing industry stagnation as far as the eye can see.

What’s the end-game in all of this? Most likely, negative equity is going to get worse before it gets better, as home prices will continue to stagnate – or even fall further in value in some markets.

An interesting parallel to this is the effect the residential real estate doldrums have on consumer psychographics. As people hear never-ending negative news stories and continue to view real estate as a problematic investment, these impressions are only magnified.

At some point, we get to a place where it will take years for those consumer attitudes to change. 2011’s third quarter average home prices reportedly dropped ~4% compared to the same period in 2010, thus continuing the ugly cycle of consumer retrenchment and lower home values. So much for the “hyped and hoped-for” housing recovery.

And what about consumers who may be thinking about becoming homeowners for the first time? Clearly, they’re not fools. Most will wait until the market has truly bottomed out before they jump in.

… Which leads us to this revelation: Not only are housing prices right back where they were in 2003, home ownership rates in the United States are now down to their lowest percentage level since before the U.S. Census Bureau began tracking this statistic back in 1963.

That is correct. After having reached a high of ~70% of the adult U.S. population in 2005, industry watchers like John Burns Real Estate Consulting are predicting that home ownership rates will fall to ~62% by 2015.

So much for attaining the “ownership society” preached by politicians throughout the 1990s and 2000s. But hey, at least a lot of people got a bunch of fee-based income from all the flurry of the real estate transactions …

Yep. “Paper entrepreneurship” at its finest. Too bad it’s all so ephemeral.

Home Ownership as an Investment Comes Under Fire

Home ownership isn't quite the financial investment many think it is.
Home ownership as a foolproof way to financial well-being? Think again.
Here’s an interesting statistic: Market observers including Deloitte and Oxford Economics estimate that there are ~10.5 million households in the United States that have a net worth of $1 million or more. (The number is calculated including the primary home.)

I for one was a bit surprised by the number, figuring it might be higher.

But here’s another interesting number – and one that explains a lot: There were ~12.7 million such “millionaire households” in America back in 2006.

The difference? Housing property values, of course. They’ve declined by ~15% since 2006 … which makes it little surprise that the number of millionaire households in the country has dropped by a similar percentage.

Over past several years we’ve witnessed millions of homeowners become upside down in their home mortgages. For this reason alone, it would be nice if more people’s net worth wasn’t so tied up in houses.

It’s as if we’re all farmers, the ultimate “land poor” demographic group.

Many people have an aversion to other types of investment, pointing to a stock market that has seen little net upward movement over the past decade. Others simply prefer a solid asset like owning property – or maybe gold.

But if the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that home ownership isn’t always the road to financial well-being.

In fact, real estate specialist and Wall Street Journal editor David Crook wrote an article recently (“Why Your Home Isn’t the Investment You Think It Is“) which spells out a pretty convincing argument that home ownership doesn’t work as the best investment vehicle.

And that’s not just by looking over the past few years … but over the past several decades.

It’s a thought-provoking article that’s well worth a read.

Outdoor advertising that’s really “out” there.

Adzookie House
Adding a lot of class to the neighborhood: Adzookie puts the "outré" in outdoor advertising.
There’s an interesting story that’s been swirling around the past few days about out-of-home advertising. Evidently, mobile ad network firm Adzookie is on the prowl for using someone’s house as an advertising placard.

As in “the entire house.” Or nearly all of it; Adzookie plans to place its logo, marketing messages and social media icons along with highly visible hues on every inch of surface save the rooftop, windows and awnings.

And what’s in it for the homeowner? Adzookie is claiming it will pay the mortgage on each house it selects for the honors.

Already, well over 1,000 applications from property owners have been received. The vast majority involve houses, but there are also restaurants, other businesses, and even a house of worship that have been submitted. You can click over to Adzookie’s Facebook page to view many of the pictures and pitches received.

How will Adzookie make its decision? Key, of course, will be traffic density; homes in sleepy sub-divisions or cul-de-sacs won’t have much of a chance. Then there’s also the issue of restrictive homeowner associations or the howls of protestation over “eye pollution” from nearby neighbors. That’ll knock quite a few more out of contention.

But here’s another tidbit that may turn out to be a deal-breaker for most of the remaining applications: CNNMoney magazine is reporting that Adzookie’s budget for the entire program is only ~$100,000 … and that includes the cost of painting the home(s) in question.

Even in this depressed real estate market, there aren’t too many houses that have a mortgage that low – unless you’re talking about a home in the City of Detroit, perhaps.

This capricious initiative proves yet again that in today’s world of advertising and promotion, pretty much anything goes. And if the idea is quirky enough, it’ll generate publicity in and of itself – thereby helping to bring about the desired awareness and interest even before the first slaps of the paintbrush ever hit the house.

Good going, Adzookie.

The Residential Real Estate Market: Still in the Dumper

Home Foreclosures
U.S. home foreclosures set a record in 2009 ... and are on their way to being even higher in 2010.
When it comes to the U.S. residential real estate market, the latest statistics and forecasts don’t bode well at all for the industry. Recently released stats on foreclosure rates reveal that 2009 was the worst year on record. And unfortunately, 2010 is looking like it’ll shatter the record yet again.

According to RealtyTrac, a firm that monitors real estate and foreclosure data, more than 2.8 million properties in America received a foreclosure notice during the past year. That’s 21% more than in 2008 and a whopping 120% higher than what was reported in 2007.

Moreover, one in every 45 households received at least one filing last year – nearly four times higher than 2006. These ugly numbers were racked up in spite of robust foreclosure prevention programs, without which the figures doubtless would have been significantly higher.

Unfortunately, the scenario doesn’t appear any better for 2010. Unless and until lenders are able to get principal balance reductions, high default rates are going to continue. In fact, RealtyTrac projects that a new record of 3 million or more properties will get a filing this year.

Where are we seeing the biggest problems? Well … in Michigan, to nobody’s surprise. But also in Nevada, Arizona and Florida. Until recently, those were states blessed with dramatic – even outsized – population and job growth, along with commensurately growing political power.

But as outlined in a recent article by Michael Barone, in an interesting twist of fate, these states are now experiencing net out-migration, while erstwhile laggard states in the Northeast and Midwest are now showing net in-migration.

It’ll likely take years to sort out the scrambled residential real estate market we have today – a situation sparked by a housing crisis for which many in government and the private sector are responsible … but which has also caught far too many innocent people in its clutches. Hopefully, the lessons learned will not be soon forgotten.