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The Washington Post's Kenneth Harney talks economy with Oklahoma Realtors

First-time buyers AWOL in housing recovery, national columnist says.
by Richard Mize Published: March 20, 2014

A rising tide usually does lift all boats, but the metaphor is foundering.

“Not this recovery,” national real estate writer Kenneth Harney told state Realtors on Wednesday.

And in housing, younger people are missing, missing out on the recovery and missing out on home ownership, he said.

“Not all the boats are rising,” said Harney, writer of the weekly column “The Nation’s Housing” for The Washington Post Writers Group. He was the luncheon speaker Wednesday at the Oklahoma Association of Realtors Legislative and Economic Summit at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel.

Harney, whose column appears in The Oklahoman’s Saturday real estate section, pointed to positives that kept Oklahoma housing buoyant during the Great Recession and since: low unemployment, at 5.2 percent according to the latest figures; and affordable housing, especially compared to the coasts.

Underemployment, harder to gauge, also affects markets, he said, and that, combined with skittish lenders and tightened government regulation of loan underwriting, is keeping many younger people from becoming homeowners across the country.

Harney said the biggest economic issue facing housing is the setback in first-time buyers since the housing bust.

First-timers accounted for 40 percent of sales before the bust and now make up just 26 to 27 percent of the market, he said.

Mortgage moratorium

Mortgage origination plummeted during and after the bust, of course. Increased regulation meant to keep another bubble from forming — meant to stop the kinds of unwise lending practices that Harney said lenders had already abandoned – has kept lending down.

Up to 1.2 million “missing loans” per year since the crisis can be attributed to limited access to credit, Harney said, citing a study by the Urban Institute.

Prospective homebuyers are missing out on what many people think is the opportunity of a lifetime in historic low interest rates.

“Loan officers and lenders say they’re afraid to take a chance on anyone who is a little close to the line,” Harney said.

The entire economy is affected, according to the Urban Institute study, available at www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/413052-Where-Have-All-the-Loans-Gone.pdf.

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by Richard Mize
Real Estate Editor
Real estate editor Richard Mize has edited The Oklahoman's weekly residential real estate section and covered housing, commercial real estate, construction, development, finance and related business since 1999. From 1989 to 1999, he worked...
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