House Flippers to Blame for Housing Downturn?

December 13, 2011

House flippers — made up of investors who bought up homes during the housing boom, possibly made a few upgrades to the home, and quickly resold the homes for high-dollar profit — played a larger role in causing the housing bubble than previously thought, according to a new federal report out by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The impact that speculative real estate investors played in driving the housing downturn has mostly been overlooked until now, the researchers note. 

The speculative investors used low downpayments and subprime credit in buying up multiple homes at once, the report says. Their actions attributed to home prices in some areas being inflated, researchers say. 

"This may have allowed the bubble to inflate further, which caused millions of owner-occupants to pay more if they wanted to buy a home for their family," researchers note in the report.

House flippers made up a big piece of the real estate market during the housing boom.  According to the report, more than one-third of all home mortgages from 2006 were to people who already owned at least one home. What’s more, “in Arizona, California, Florida and Nevada, where average home prices more than doubled from 2000 to 2006, investors made up nearly half of all mortgage-backed purchases during the housing bubble,” the Associated Press reports. “Buyers owning three or more properties represented the fastest-growing segment of home owners during that time.”

When home values began to fall in 2006, investors defaulted on their loans in large numbers, accounting for more than 25 percent of seriously delinquent mortgage balances, according to the report. In investor hot-spots like Arizona, California, Florida, and Nevada, investors accounted for more than a third of seriously delinquent mortgage balances from 2007 to 2009.

The report urges lenders and regulators to take action to limit speculative borrowing in order to avoid a future housing downturn.  

Source: “Flippers’ Housing Bust Role Larger than Thought,” The Associated Press (Dec. 12, 2011)

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