Don't Expect a Housing Turnaround Anytime Soon

The housing market likely won't turn around anytime soon, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, which released its forecast for the 2008 housing market and the economy in general today. The Washington, D.C.-based group predicts that the housing sector will continue to suffer through the middle of next year, then begin start to turn around, but slowly.

Among the highlights:

Home starts (new construction) will hit bottom sometime between April and June of 2008 while sales will hit their low point sometime between July and September of 2008.

"Total existing home sales for 2007 will decline by about 12 percent from 2006 to 5.72 million units." Sales will decline an additional 10 percent in 2008.

"New home sales will decline by 22 percent from 2006 to 819,000 units." In 2008, new home sales will decline an additional 10 percent.

Total mortgages issued will drop about 15 percent this year. In 2008, total mortgages (new and refinancing) will drop an additional 18 percent.

"In terms of housing, we expect 2008 sales to be below 2007 levels until late 2008, but given the oversupply of homes in a number of markets, any significant increase in home building is probably years off," said Mortgage Bankers Association's chief economist Doug Duncan.

Despite high energy costs, higher prices for imported goods, uncertainty about taxes and problems in the housing sector, Duncan said that the picture isn't completely grim. "The underlying fundamentals of the economy … should be strong enough to get us past this period so that economic growth should return to normal levels by the second half of 2008."

Duncan said the impact of the slump in the housing sector is being offset by growing strength of our trade with the rest of the world (thanks in large part to a weak dollar).

"If the funds rate is reduced another 25 basis points at the October policy meeting, that may be the last move needed to keep the economy on a moderate growth track" he said, regarding future Federal Reserve actions. If economic growth doesn't pick up, Duncan expects the Fed to leave interest rates low and refrain from raising them.

He predicts fixed rate mortgages, currently around 6.4 percent, will rise to 6.6 percent at the start of next year.