After years of hearing how home prices are plummeting and foreclosures are mounting, consumers want to feel hopeful about the housing market -- but maybe they're being too optimistic.
In a presentation to the National Association of Real Estate Editors in Austin, Texas, last week, Stan Humphries, Zillow.com's chief economist, pointed to four myths he said consumers are latching on to as they try to make sense of recent housing statistics.
The four myths:
The housing recession is over. It's not, Humphries said. He estimates the bottom in home prices won't come until the third quarter, at least from a national perspective. Doug Duncan, chief economist at Fannie Mae and also a speaker at the conference, agreed with that estimation.
After markets hit bottom, prices will rebound to boom levels. Not going to happen, at least for a while, Humphries said. "Once we hit bottom, the bottom is going to be a long and flat affair across the markets," he said. "What we're going to see once we hit bottom is the second phase of the housing recession... that second phase is one of being flat."
The worst of the foreclosure mess is behind us. More wishful thinking, according to Humphries. He estimates foreclosures will peak later this year, then remain elevated for a while. Rick Sharga, senior vice president of RealtyTrac, an online marketplace for foreclosure properties, said he doesn't envision foreclosure activity stabilizing until late 2011.
The tax credits saved the housing market. With or without a tax credit, those who bought would have done so anyway, Humphries said. "The biggest impact [in home sales] we believe were low prices... low interest rates and the unsung factor here is the ramped up lending by the Federal Housing Administration."
Still, it's easy to understand why many homeowners want look on the bright side.
"They went from what everyone thought was a lucrative asset to something worth a lot less than they owed on it," said Douglas Culkin, president of the National Apartment Association, in a phone interview. "We all want it to get better," he said.
Some want to finally sell their homes and move on with their plans. And homeowners are tired of thinking their houses are bleeding equity, losing value like a new car driving off the dealership lot.
As for prospective home buyers, even if consumers are feeling confident enough to take an extra trip to Wal-Mart these days, many are not going to jump in and spend on a large-ticket item like a house, said Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
"The reality of the situation in which we find ourselves today has sunk in with people," she said in a phone interview. "If a foreclosure hasn't been a part of their life, it has been a part of someone else's life... and they've seen the pain that inflicts on the family."
That perception isn't going to fade quickly.