Most agree the housing crunch isn't over yet.
Housing is proving to be one of the biggest wild cards in the economy in 2007 as analysts are deeply divided about whether the worst in the downturn is over or there is much more pain to go. Only nine percent of economists say the housing decline ended in 2006, according to a USA TODAY survey of 55 economists taken Jan. 18-24. Another 42 percent said the downturn will end in the first half of the year, and 45 percent said housing will bottom out in the second half.
When housing bottoms out is key for the economy. Thus far, the fallout has been small. The economy grew at a faster pace in 2006 than in 2005 even though sales of previously owned homes fell 8.2 percent, the biggest drop in 17 years, the National Association of Realtors says. But the economy may not be able to shrug off further declines, A.G. Edwards & Sons Chief Economist Gary Thayer says. Lower energy prices and a strong job market have thus far helped consumers weather the housing downturn. But going forward, those two factors may not be big enough to offset further weakening, Thayer says.
Economist Tucker Hart Adams says the housing market won't stabilize in 2007. The combination of resetting adjustable-rate mortgages, homeowners unable to keep up with payments on so-called exotic mortgages such as interest-only loans, and other debt will lead to higher foreclosure rates and more homes on the market, she says. "It's really optimistic to think that it just took a little adjustment and everything is fine," she says. "It's one time I would like to be wrong." (USA TODAY)