In the most tweeted, Facebook-ed and instant polled Presidential Campaign ever, there is one topic which has been met with surprisingly deafening silence: the U.S. Housing and Real Estate Market. During last week’s debate, we heard a lot about tax plans and cuts, energy, health care and jobs, but nothing on the real estate market. Nothing…This year’s presidential candidates have mostly avoided discussing an industry that’s largely responsible for the last five years of economic pain. But why?
For sure, the subject of housing remains an extremely sensitive one. President Obama might prefer that the real estate market, whose imbalances sparked the financial crisis, to remain a ghost issue because of a lackluster record at combating the foreclosure epidemic. He is also blamed for not doing enough on the loan modification front with the dismal HAMP and HARP programs. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, might like to steer clear of the topic because a hard stance on housing could alienate voters whom he needs to win. I’m not here to debate one particular side or candidate, but rather to simply pose the question of why no talk on real estate?
Obama Falls Short of Expectations?
“Obama’s major housing initiatives have fallen short of expectations, and so Obama doesn’t have big victories to point to,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist for listing service Trulia. “The housing market is still struggling in many parts of the country, so this is not a problem that’s been solved.” The administration’s flagship relief program, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), has helped 1 million homeowners obtain lower interest rates, principal reductions, more time to pay their mortgages or any combination of the three. But that pales in comparison to the 3 to 4 million homeowners whom the program was supposed to help. Meanwhile, the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), designed to help 5 million homeowners refinance their mortgages into lower interest rates, has benefited only about 1.5 million homeowners.
Romney Gun-Shy On Housing?
Romney’s housing platform includes the potential elimination of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and that prospect may be just too scary and radical to everyday voters and homeowners who have relied on the government giants to stabilized the formerly free-falling real estate market. “To stake out what you think Fannie and Freddie’s future is is to alienate somebody,” commented Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute. “Realtors and home builders tend to be politically active — and Republicans,” noted Mr. Calabria. Indeed, Romney’s free-market stance on housing, if articulated bluntly, could unsettle many distressed homeowners as well. He has said that he believes that the housing market should naturally “hit bottom,” and has harshly criticized Obama’s relief programs.
Let’s Get The Housing Dialogue Going!
Over the past several months, I’ve enjoyed healthy (and even civil) political discussion on the issues on my Facebook feed. (Please join in!). The real estate market and housing always comes up, whether it’s in the context of folks not able to refinance their underwater mortgages, the loss of their equity, or the impact of unemployment on the general real estate sector. Granted, the real estate market has made significant gains since the bottom fell out in 2008, but folks are still hurting out there and it’s really been the Fed and its low interest rates which have largely kept the market from imploding. So, we should be talking about all the issues. And that means federally assisted refinancing for underwater mortgages, Fed policy on interest rates, and the future of the GSE’s. Oh and by the way, where did all that foreclosure crisis settlement money go? I have yet to hear about anyone who has received any assistance from that fund.
Well, if Obama and Romney aren’t going to talk housing and real estate, we can do it here on this blog. Feel free to post your comments, diatribes or soapbox speeches in the comment section below. You can use the Facebook comments too. Keep the debate civil please!
Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a Massachusetts real estate attorney who helps people buy, sell, finance and litigate disputes involving Massachusetts real estate. He blogs at Massachusetts real estate blog.
Please contact him if you are dealing with a Massachusetts foreclosure and title dispute.