Need to Know: This housing expert who foresaw the 2007 bubble says, actually, prices are fine right now

Barry Habib is no stranger to the housing market. Currently the chief executive of MBS Highway, a provider of tools to mortgage advisers, and the multiple winner of Zillow’s “Crystal Ball Award” for most accurate real estate forecaster, Habib sold Mortgage Market Guide, the business he founded, in 2007, at the top of the market, in addition to making public warnings about it.

So an exchange between Habib and David Rosenberg, the pessimistic chief economist and strategist at Rosenberg Research, was notable for Habib’s optimistic view on house prices even as they surge higher.

One big difference between now and 2007 is the supply of homes. There’s roughly 12 million more households than 2007 but three million fewer homes to buy. “How can you have a bubble under those conditions,” he asked.

Affordability is another point. Even though wages aren’t rising as fast as home prices, they are rising enough to meet the higher typical monthly payment. “Round numbers, you’d have to pay, instead of $1,000 bucks a month, $1,200 a month for principal and interest, because it’s borrowing 20% more. That’s a $200 a month increase, which seems to make it less affordable unless your income was enough to offset it,” he said. On $5,000 a month income, that is a 4% rise. “Now this is an oversimplification certainly, but it just gives you an idea of why you can’t say the level of appreciation has to be met exactly by the level of increase in income, it does not,” he said.

For two earners, it takes about 19% of monthly income to make a mortgage payment, compared with 30% in 2006, Habib said. (This reporter’s attempt at a similar calculation came up with an even more affordable 15% of monthly income.)

He conceded that buying a home right now isn’t a pleasant experience. “All it takes for you to go out and start shopping for homes, it’s not only the sticker shock, it’s being outbid, it’s being put in positions where you have to close quickly, you have to give up terms, so it sucks to buy a home, quite honestly, right now, it sucks,” he said.

But the results, Habib said, are great. “If you stick with it and you do make that purchase of a home, you have, to this point in time, been very handsomely rewarded, and I am confident that over the next few years that you probably will continue to be rewarded, although I’ll tell you, it’s not an easy thing to do.”

From the archives (February 2010): Habib talks about investing in the “Rock of Ages” musical

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