Monday, April 21, 2008

How wrong were those Corridor homebuyers? 

The housing boom hits much of Minnesota, but in a series running the last two days in the StarTribune the most dire area is Wright County, where there is see-through housing.

Some houses in the subdivision have been empty or unfinished for more than a year. Garage doors are missing, unopened mail clogs mailboxes, and dormant lawns have turned into tangled masses of weeds. Some homes are priced for $80,000 to $100,000 less than their original price.

"A lot of the prices that people were paying for property in Wright County had no basis in reality," said George Schmidt, a real estate agent with Remax in Anoka. "They were destined for foreclosure."

Blogger and frequent Scholars commenter 'bleak' argues that these homes in the exurbs had imaginary value.
What were the bogus justifications for the housing bubble? Prices only go up? No more land being made? (There's plenty of land in Wright County.) Baby Boobers were going to buy investment properties?

Humbug! Within a blink of the eye, all of that 'home equity' everyone was banking on is gone. It was never really there in the first place.
I have written articles locally about "the corridor", that area between Interstate 94 and U.S. Highway 10, which largely runs through Wright and Sherburne counties. It is an area that has filled in dramatically with businesses and housing as homeowners sought more room and escape from the tax burdens and land restrictions of the metro counties. Demographic estimates show an expected increase in population in these areas of 18-19% between 2006 and 2010. (The comparable number here in Stearns county is under 7%.) The answer to bleak's question of what justifications being made were "people are moving there". And not just from the east.

In the early days of the current housing crisis, the state implemented two new laws which placed restrictions on the mortgage market. No one is a fan of liar loans or the subprime market more generally, and everyone would like to require every one else's mortgage banker to be licensed under stricter laws. But the effect of these laws has been to signal that lending is to be restricted, and it is, and that is leading to difficulty of sellers finding buyers.

Undoubtedly, as the STrib stories tell you, there are stories of fraud (by sellers) and greed (by buyers). At least one of the buyers in today's story is holding on to his underwater properties because "if I can't get rid of these for a profit in five years, then I'm in trouble." There's enough blame to go around many places. But the value isn't imaginary. That area will eventually fill in. Cleaning up after this episode will mean that takes longer, as some land and housing is misallocated and the government continues to impede the unwinding of those positions. But it will unwind.

The STrib indicates that tomorrow's article will include the response of area cities and townships.

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