Oct 09, 2023

3 Reasons Why this Real Estate Market Isn’t Like the Great Recession


The COVID-era housing boom is disappearing in the rearview mirror and rates just keep rising. So, you may have seen some headlines comparing today’s real estate landscape to that of 2008. 

The good news? Experts agree that we likely won’t see history repeat itself.  

There are three key factors that spell out just how this market is different than 2008: 

  1. There’s likely no housing “bubble” 
  2. Mortgage qualification is more highly regulated now 
  3. Homeowners are in better financial standing than in 2008 

Experts don’t see a “bubble”  

The 2008 recession was caused by what’s called a “housing bubble”. 

Housing bubble: A real estate market characterized by a rapid increase in home prices, followed by a sharp drop in housing demand. 

Basically, homes get very expensive, very quickly. So potential buyers lose interest. With no demand, home values plummet. In other words, the bubble bursts. 

It’s important to remember that a bubble is different than a hot real estate market. A bubble refers to a temporary and unsustainable jump in the market. A hot real estate market, on the other hand, is persistent and longer-term.  

Market conditions in the years leading up to 2008 

Borrowers couldn’t afford their mortgages 

As 2008 approached, more and more borrowers were taking out mortgages they couldn’t really afford, without even realizing it. This was mostly thanks to lax mortgage requirements and a lack of transparency throughout the industry. 

Basically, homeowners who probably shouldn’t have received a mortgage were still approved, mostly for subprime mortgages. 

Sub-prime mortgage: A home loan for borrowers who don’t qualify for a conventional mortgage. For example, perhaps their credit score is too low. Because these borrowers are more likely to default or stop paying, subprime mortgages come with higher interest rates. 

In 2006, approximately 20% of all mortgage loans were subprime mortgages.  

Risky mortgage investments were common 

Mortgage-backed securities were a big deal before 2008, too. 

Mortgage-backed securities: A</strong> type of investment that is secured with real estate loans as collateral. A lender bundles a few different home loans and sells them off to investors at a discount.  

Mortgage-backed securities are usually considered “safer” investments because the real estate is there to back them up. But sub-prime mortgages turned these relatively reliable investments into huge financial risks. 

When the bubble burst and home prices fell, borrowers with sub-prime mortgages suddenly owed much more on their homes than they were worth. And they had no real ability to make meaningful payments. Many of these homeowners defaulted on their home loans and the value of mortgage-backed securities plummeted. 

So, the widespread lack of home equity burst the housing bubble and impacted investors and Wall Street as a result. Notably, home purchase demand took a nosedive too. 

2008 versus today 

On the other hand, the past few years of competition coupled with recent, moderate cool-downs illustrate a much more balanced ebb and flow. There has also been a lot of investment in legislation to help prevent further crashes, and mortgages have become much harder to come by. 

Here’s a quick overview of some additional key changes: 

In 2008: 

  • Borrowers could more easily obtain a mortgage with no money down.   
  • Buyers who didn’t meet standard qualifications could still receive sub-prime mortgages.  
  • Around 60% of all U.S. mortgages were pooled into mortgage-backed securities.  
  • Borrowers didn’t have to demonstrate the ability to repay their mortgage before closing on a home, so long as the house had a sufficient appraised value. 
  • The initial interest rate that borrowers qualified for could increase quickly and substantially. And the loan terms allowed for interest-only payments during early years. 
  • The decrease in demand happened very quickly, “bursting the bubble” and leading to about a 20% decrease in home values.  

In today’s market: 

  • Borrowers are less likely to qualify for a mortgage without a down payment. Except for certain VA and USDA Loans! 
  • Qualifications, including expectations around credit scores, have become stricter.  
  • Today, conventional and government-backed loans are more common and more secure.  
  • Borrowers must now demonstrate their ability to repay the loan before qualifying for it.  
  • While home demand has fluctuated a bit in recent years, it has remained relatively steady overall.   

While credit score requirements and higher down payment amounts may be frustrating for many would-be first-time buyers, these controls help ensure that another housing bubble doesn’t become a reality.  

The CFPB actively regulates the mortgage industry  

In 2008, there was no one federal agency overseeing the entire mortgage industry. Supervision of consumer finance professionals spanned seven separate government agencies. So, as you can imagine, enforceable rules and regulations were few and far between. This is partly why unqualified borrowers ended up with home loans they couldn’t really afford.  

To better protect consumers and prevent future housing market crashes, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010. This legislature created the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, or CFPB.  The CFPB: A federal financial agency focused solely on consumer protection. The CFPB is part of the Federal Reserve (Fed) system and is designed to make sure consumers are treated fairly by banks, lenders, and other financial institutions. 

Some of their most notable actions over the past 10 years include: </strong>

  • Establishing protocols to prevent more irresponsible mortgage lending. 
  • Requiring easier-to-use mortgage disclosure forms to improve consumer understanding  
  • Discovering and remedying illegal conduct, providing billions of dollars for affected owners.  
  • Addressing more than three million consumer complaints.  

Today, the CFPB’s work includes:  

  • Enforcing anti-discrimination laws in housing.  
  • Receiving and addressing consumer complaints.  
  • Providing education on home financing.  
  • Researching, studying, and seeking to understand the consumer experience.  
  • Monitoring and communicating any potential risks within the financial markets.   

Essentially, the CFPB helps monitor the many factors that could contribute to another housing crash. 

It’s also important to remember that the CFPB is on your side as the consumer! If you have complaints about financial companies, observe illegal or unethical behavior in the industry, or just want loan information to shop around, the CFPB can help.  

Two mortgage borrowers talking to a mortgage professional.

Owners and buyers look very different now  

Because of stricter requirements, including creditworthiness and down payment amounts, homebuyers and owners look different today than they did in 2008. Overall, they’re much better prepared to purchase homes and manage their loans.  

In the years leading up to 2008:  

  • Only 25% of buyers had a credit score of 720 or above.  
  • Mortgage debt ranged from 70-100% of a borrower’s disposable income.  
  • Many borrowers were negatively impacted by interest-only loans, loans with early payoff penalties, and surprise balloon payments. Paired with falling home values, refinancing or selling was virtually impossible. 
  • Household debt to disposable income was high.  
  • Because owners paid so much for their mortgages, building equity was nearly impossible. So, many borrowers owed more than their home was worth.    

In today’s market:  

  • A sizable 75% of buyers have a credit score of 720 or above.  
  • Mortgage debt is roughly 65% of a borrower’s disposable income. 
  • Borrowers must be informed of all mortgage loan terms. 
  • Balloon payments are nearly non-existent.  
  • Household debt to disposable income is down 30%.  
  • Owners have more involvement in the home loan process and are better able to build home equity.  

While there are still some options for borrowers in less-than-ideal financial situations, overall, applicants for home loans are financially stronger and more prepared than in 2008. From higher credit scores to more secure loan types, these buyers are entering the market more informed, more prepared, and more realistic.  

3 Reasons Why This Real Estate Market Isn’t Like 2008  

Experts agree: today’s real estate market is fundamentally different than that of 2008. 

Luckily, much of the heavy lifting was done immediately post-recession. But modern inflation, interest rate changes, and changing buyer demographics all play a part as well. So, whether you’re worried about obtaining an adjustable-rate mortgage or boosting your credit score, you can rest easy knowing that we likely won’t see history repeat itself. 

* Specific loan program availability and requirements may vary. Please get in touch with your mortgage advisor for more information.
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