More than half of North American mortgage bankers worry housing bubble is forming

Canadian market showing more evidence of overheating than US

A majority of North American mortgage bankers fear another real estate bubble is forming, according to a recent survey conducted for FICO, a predictive analytics software company.

The survey found that 56 percent of a pool of American and Canadian respondents directly involved in mortgage lending expressed concern that “an unsustainable real estate bubble is inflating.”

Bubble image via Shutterstock.
Bubble image via Shutterstock.

Andrew Jennings, chief analytics officer at FICO, said the housing market is “bifurcated” with strong price growth pushing total homeowner equity in the U.S. to its highest level since late 2007, even as 6 million people struggle with underwater loans that exceed the values of their homes by an average of 33 percent.

“That doesn’t feel like a healthy, sustainable growth situation,” he said. “No wonder many lenders in both Canada and the U.S. are concerned about the risk in residential mortgages.”

The market’s schizophrenic behavior may be troubling, but a survey released by the Mortgage Bankers Association today indicates that any unsustainable path the U.S. market may be headed down looks a lot different than the one that led to the housing bust.

The trade group’s Mortgage Credit Availability Index increased to 115.8 in June from 115.1 in May — a level that pales in comparison to that of 2006, when the index would have registered a level around 800.

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A relaxing of minimum credit scores and maximum loan-to-value ratios for Federal Housing Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs loans were behind June’s uptick in the index, according to the MBA.

Trulia Chief Economist Jed Kolko says U.S. properties are still undervalued by 3 percent, and many of the hottest markets aren’t close to as overvalued as they were during the peak of the housing boom.

California’s Orange County, the “frothiest” market in the U.S., is just 17 percent overvalued versus being 71 percent overvalued in the first quarter of 2006.

Perhaps the Canadian respondents to the FICO survey accounted for a disproportionate share of those who expressed bubble concerns. 

Min Zhu, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, recently noted that Canada’s house-price-to-rent and house-price-to-income ratios are far above their historical averages — two indications that homes could be overvalued.


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