What Caused the Mortgage Meltdown?

The answer is simple. Like most financial crises, it was caused by greed and foolishness. The greed and foolishness of mortgage brokers, real estate appraisers, real estate brokers, hedge fund managers, and home buyers – with a little push over the ledge from the friendly folks at predatory credit card companies

Mortgage Brokers

The client’s perception of the mortgage brokers job is that they are to find the client the lowest interest rate on the best type of loan for their financial and lifestyle circumstances. Many of the mortgage brokers I’ve dealt with view their job as extracting the highest commission possible from the client and putting them into a loan product that will have them needing to refinance in two to five years. One heavily marketed loan product is one in which the homeowner makes interest only payments at a low interest rate like 6% for two or three years and then starts making regular payments at a rate around 10%. Payments on a $200,000 home can go from $1200 a month to over $2000 a month.

Real Estate Appraisers

Real estate appraisers take well deserved pride in the general honesy of their profession, but there a few bad apples who are referred to as “tame” appraisers, meaning they will appraise a home for whatever it is listed at so that the sale will go forward and the buyers’ and sellers’ real estate brokers will not lose a commission – even though the appraiser’s client is the homebuyer. This leads to homes selling for more than they are really worth and, depending on the percentage of the home’s value financed, may lead to homeowners being “upside down” (owing more than their home is worth).

Real Estate Brokers

The vast majority of brokers are honest, hardworking and take their duty to represent their clients’ interests very seriously. A few brokerages, however, engage in questionable practices. Some actively cultivate “tame” home appraisers. As mentioned above, this can lead to homes selling for more than they are worth and homeowners being “upside down.” Some brokerages offer larger commissions to brokers on properties listed by fellow franchisees, incenting brokers to push those properties over properties represented by brokers outside the franchise system. This can lead to brokers “steering” clients to properties on which they earn more money. Sometimes a broker will simply fail to inform a client that the home that they have fallen in love with is not a good buy for fear of losing a commission. Like I said, the vast majority of brokers are honest, hardworking and take their duty to represent their clients’ interests very seriously, but in any industry where large sums of money are at stake, some people will be less than honest.

Hedge Fund Managers

As previously mentioned, whenever there are large sums of money to be made, some people will, knowingly or unknowingly, make poor decisions based on greed. For an excellent description of hedge funds go here. If you’re really geeky you can follow the links from there to an explanation of the derivitaves market. For my stripped down version, read on.

A Hedge fund is a private fund with a very limited number of big money investors. These investors include banks, large corporations and other funds. Hedge funds are exempt from the regulatory safeguards that apply to mutual funds, brokerage firms and financial advisors. This leaves them free to put their money (more precisely, their investors’ money) into riskier investments. Originally a hedge fund would “hedge” its risky investments to offset potential losses. Not today. Hedge funds dominate the market for distressed debt, including sub-prime mortgages.

The positive sides of this are that there many homeowners today who would not be homeowners without hedge funds to buy their mortgages and that during good economic times everyone who participated in hedge funds made lots of money. The bad thing about hedge funds is that, being so heavily invested in distressed debt, they are especially sensitive to economic downturns. It doesn’t take very many people missing mortgage and credit card payments to turn a fund from a winner into a loser – especially if a lot of those people were already in over their heads. Over the last several years hedge fund managers have been taking on riskier and riskier debt.

Five years ago almost anyone who could fog a mirror could get a mortgage. Two years ago fogging a mirror was no longer required. Mortgage banks were selling these crappy loans off in lots to hedge funds. In the race for greater returns, hedge fund managers got greedy and stupid and bought way too many crappy investments. Just like the drunk at the craps table who keeps letting it all ride, they eventually crapped out. OOPS.


There is a tendency to blame sellers and real estate brokers for the problem, based on the argument that they shouldn’t have been asking such high prices for real estate. Nonsense. Every seller is entitled to as much as he or she can possibly get for any property they sell, provided they have provided complete disclosure to the buyer. Real Estate Brokers are legally bound to get as much as they possibly can for a seller client. Failure to do so can result in criminal and civil penalties. In other words, if a real estate broker fails to price a seller clients’ properties at the absolute most the market will bear they can go to jail and get their ass sued off.

A lot of buyers made poor decisions and are now facing the consequences of those decisions. People who were not making ends meet as it was purchased homes they could not afford (with the complicity of mortgage brokers). Many people who should never have taken out adjustable rate mortgages did so (at the urging of mortgage brokers). As stated above, there are very few people who should ever get a variable rate mortgage. Think about it. If you get a fixed rate mortgage and interest rates rise, your payment remains the same. If rates fall, you can always refinance. With a variable rate mortgage, when interest rates rise, your payments rise and if even if you come to your senses and refinance, you will not be able to get the lower payment you would have if you had chosen a fixed rate initially. Personally, I would never get a variable rate mortgage (I have memories of the 23% interest rates of the late 70s), but the generally accepted rule is that you should only consider an adjustable rate mortgage if you know you will be moving in three years or less.

Credit Cards

When interest rates rise, credit card rates rise. Now, if you know a little about economics, you might expect that credit card rates would rise and fall at the same rate as the prime rate (the rate the Federal Reserve charges banks for the loan of money). No. If you know a little about unbridled greed (that would be everyone who’s ever had a credit card), you’ll know credit card companies will never miss a cance to raise cardholders’ rates by 2% (or more) every time the prime rises 1%, and they rarely fall. God have mercy on any cardholder who is one day late on their payment or one dollar over their credit limit, because the credit card companies will not. Add an interest rate increase due to a rise in the prime rate to an interest rate increase for being late or over the limit and a cardholder can have their minimum payment double. People with more than one credit card become victims of a domino effect as their other credit cards raise their minimum payment. Even people who carefully budgeted their home purchase can quickly become insolvent.

The Net Result

What we’re seeing in the real estate market and dependent segments of the economy are classic illustrations of the principle of supply and demand. Because hedge funds and their investors are losing money, there is not only less money available for risky borrowers, but for everyone. Fewer people qualifying for mortgages means lower demand for housing. Lower demand for housing means more homes on the market longer selling for less and fewer new houses being built. Fewer homes being sold means less money going into the pockets of home sellers for reinvestment in the economy. Fewer new homes being built and sold means less money for everyone who makes the stuff that makes houses (wood, gutters, appliances) or that makes the stuff that makes the stuff that makes houses (timber, metals, factory equipment) which means they don’t buy a new car this year and the car company lays off workers who don’t buy…and on and on.

Unfortunately, for the last twenty years or so, Oregon seems to always be one of the first states to suffer in an economic downturn and one of the last to recover. Even in good times our unemployment rate has been a full point above the national average. As the lady said, “get ready for a bumpy ride.”

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  • John Fairplay

    Tim, you forgot to mention the media’s role. There’s no guarantee against some kind of cascade failure, but at the moment, 95 percent of home mortgages are current. A 5 percent default rate is hardly a “crisis” or a “meltdown.” The media hype and avoidance of factual reporting has been shameful.

    This is an example of Darwinian economics – people who are at the bottom of the economic food chain are being winnowed from the house-owning herd. The key is to make sure they learn a lesson about fiscal responsibility and not a lesson about how government will bail you out no matter what stupid mistake you might make.

  • RinoWatch

    The MSM’s ignoring the 95% – 5% comparison is quite proper and the same as the Unemployment comparisons.

    When an election is won by 55% or more it’s a “Landslide”.

    The Mortgage & Unemployment Stats are not a “meltdown” but rather a HUGE “Landslide” in favor of those 95% who are working and pay their mortgages!

  • Joey Link

    My dad and I were just talking about this last night while watching the debate. I can’t see any situation where anyone deserves a ‘bailout’ from the government. The lenders loaned under qualified buyers the money because they were greedy, and now that they can’t pay, the lending businesses deserve to go under. The buyers signed a contract which clearly stated terms they had to have known they couldn’t meet. If they didn’t know what would happen after a couple years then they didn’t do their homework or read the fine print. In both cases, it’s their fault, and they deserve to lose their homes. Where’s the responsibility?


      100% right Joey, any bail out of any of the groups involved will cause unintended danage to our economy. Let those who set themselves up for failure, fail. They will learn a valuable lesson and also learn how to succeed the next time.

    • sybella

      I totally agree with you. Unfortunately so many young people have not learned to use logic. Logic says what you just said.

      Look around you at the information we are bombarded with. The idea we deserve to have everything, just like the guy, your parents, who worked for what they have. The idea of whether their decisions are logical or not never enters the picture.

      If it feels good do it, after all it’s your right. What a falacy. What a way to set yourself up to lose.

  • DRJ

    Tim, don’t you mean “Home Appraisers” and not Home Inspectors? I totally agree with you as appraisals always magically seem to come in even when you wonder if they will.

    I have found Home Inspectors to be diligent in their duties and honest to their clients.

    • Tim Lyman

      Yes, I have corrected myself.

  • Steve Plunk

    Thanks Tim. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Now it’s time to establish a sound credible market for all. I would start with loosening land use rules to drop the price of home lots and homes. Make them affordable to start with and no mortgage hanky panky would be needed. So some blame is there for our government as well.

  • tracy

    There needs to be some clarification on the usage of the terms “Inspector” and “Appraiser” The Appraiser determines the value of the project while the “Inspector” determines the quality of the project. The rest of your article is both accurate and informative. Thank you

  • Bob Clark

    You forgot to mention the biggest accomplice, namely, a Federal Reserve banking system (Fed) which kept interest rates artificially low during the 2002 to 2005 period inorder to manufacture an economic recovery. At one point Alan Greenspan, head of the Federal Reserve, advocated home buyers go mostly with adjustable rate mortgages. Moreover, the Fed showed very little worry about all kinds of untraditional mortagage instruments like negative amortization loans or no downpayment loans, feeding a speculative boom in trophy like second homes. In other words, government related institutions put the proverbial punch bowl out too long and caused a lot of the current credit crisis.

    On top of this, while I applaud the Bush tax cuts, this administration has been too casual about economic matters. For example, instead of meeting with energy industry folks in secret early in their administration and totally ticking off the environmental nutcase organizations, it should have done something more akin to trading an expanison of oil drilling in exchange for other environmental concessions. By now such drilling would have boosted domestic oil supplies, reducing the U.S trade deficit and helping slow the decline in the U.S dollar exchange rate value. High gasoline prices and heating oil prices are sure not helping people meet mortgage payments. One has to wonder whether Cheney and Bush wanted higher oil prices. Maybe their oil buddies help them out a bit after they leave office.

    • John in Oregon

      Bob, the only argument I would have with trading something (like lower mercury levels) for more drilling is that it doesn’t work. The negotiating history of the environmental crowed is they will happily accept your part of the compromise and then sue to block the drilling.

      Everyone who has negotiated has had that same experience.

  • Tim Lyman

    As several posters mentioned, I used the term “inspector” in my original post when I meant “appraiser.” I have edited the post to correct the error.

    I have referred to the homebuyer as the appraiser’s client. Some may take issue with this as the lender will usually recommend an appraiser, pay the appraiser and then collect an appraisal fee from the buyer. Buyers are free to choose their own appraiser, but usually choose to go with the one recommended by the lender or real estate broker. The appraiser has a legal responsibility to both the lender and the buyer to produce an accurate and honest appraisal.

  • John in Oregon

    Tim, thanks for an excellent article. I would add two points to your discussion.

    This problem is to some degree the byproduct of Government polices. In independent research Theo Eicher of the University of Washington at Seattle and Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute looked at subprime loans. They found that the bulk of the subprime problem in 11 states (Oregon among them).

    In two of those states geographical limitations restrict the available land for growth. In Nevada, Federally owned land encircles and constrains the growth of Los Vegas. The other nine states have restrictive land use planning that artificially limits land available for development.

    And as we all know (I hope) scarcity, natural or artificial causes prices to rise.

    And here Government takes a second bite. Affordable housing is a hot button issue. State and Local Government encourages lenders to accommodate marginal borrowers. And as the home prices rise government responds by imposing “affordable housing” requirements which pushes new housing costs even higher.

    The second point I would make has to do with the hedge fund market. Individuals and financial institutions buy investment grade mortgage bonds in anticipation of long term revenue or growth in value. All things being equal the wins and losses even out across the markets and the “pain” is distributed amongst many investors.

    Recent news reports suggest all things may not have been equal. A Reuters article “Hedge fund manager Paulson earns $3.7 billion” notes that John Paulson (and others) ” bet that investment grade mortgage bonds would be subject to default”. Large sums of money (Billions) in a short position is a huge incentive for a subprime meltdown.

    Obviously there is plenty of blame to go around. From Government Planners, to Politicians, to lenders and fund managers the list is lengthy.

    I would be willing to bet that without the so called “Smart Growth” and the power of Government, the housing bubble would never have been as large as it is.

  • NotYourDaddy

    Thank you for an excellent article, Tim.

    I’m getting really tired of hearing whiny homebuyers absolved of all responsibilty for their own financial decisions. They are not innnocent victims. They thought they were getting away with something by buying more house than they could afford, in the anticipation that the housing bubble would continue forever. Of course, there’s plenty of blame to go around. But, regardless of what responsibility others may bear, every person is ultimately responsible for the decisions they make in their own life. It’s their responsibility to understand the terms of any contract they sign. And, if they don’t understand it, they should hire a lawyer to explain it to them, who has no vested interest in the transaction. To sign a contract you don’t understand is irresponsible, and irresponsibility has consequences.

    I didn’t own a house until I was in my mid-forties, because I don’t believe in debt. We saved up until we could afford to buy our house outright. It’s a small house, and older than we wanted. As housing prices kept rising, we kept scaling back our requirements to fit within our budget. And, unfortunately, we bought at the peak of the housing bubble. Today, our house is worth a lot less than we paid for it. So I have little sympathy for young couples, just starting out in life, buying houses for twice as much as we could afford after saving for decades, and then expecting the government to bail them out with our tax money.

    People don’t learn from their mistakes. They learn from the consequences of their mistakes. If you shield them from the consequences, they’ll make the same mistakes again.

    No bailouts for lenders or borrowers! Let the market correct itself, and then laissez-faire.

    • Joey Link

      “People don’t learn from their mistakes. They learn from the consequences of their mistakes. If you shield them from the consequences, they’ll make the same mistakes again.”

      I need to save this somewhere, or put it on my wall. That’s one of the truest statements I’ve ever heard.

  • dean

    Its less about individual mistakes or lessons than it is about the impacts of these foreclosures on the larger economy. Every block with a foreclosed house loses real value….capital, and that capital is no longer available for spending or investment, and that loss of spending and investment can drag the entire economy down. Japan’s economy has still not fully recovered from its real estate bubble that burst in 1990. This is serious stuff and should not be taken lightly.

    This is not a morality play. It is about the wealth of the nation, which unfortunately was badly skewed to residential real estate due to what amounted to a Ponzi scheme foisted on the public by investment bankers and mortgage brokers, with the offered candy grabbed by sometimes greedy, sometimes unsophisticated buyers.

    It is about lax regulation of the banking industry as much as anything. Will we learn anything? Maybe and maybe not.

    • John in Oregon

      Dean, which of these individuals or institutions is unregulated?

      Mortgage Brokers
      Real Estate Appraisers
      Real Estate Brokers
      Credit Cards companies

      That’s right, all of the above are regulated. In some cases volumes of rules and regulations. A minefield of regulation requiring a lawyer to blaze safe passage.

      The only unregulated segment I see is:

      State and Local Planners exercising the power of government to impose what they know in their hearts is the best way for the people to live.

      • dean

        John…my understanding is that what was unregulated was the investment banking industry, which bought mortgages from banks adn S&Ls, bundled sub primes with more conventional ones and re-sold them as high quality assetts. Since the mortgage initiators were of the hook once they sold the shaky loans they wrote (having already collected their fees,) a house of cards was built that was poised to collapse once the bottom rung was pulled out (the Fed raisning interest rates, causing variable rate mortgages to spike, causing foreclosures).

        I don’t see that planners had anything whatsoever to do with this, and have read zero analysis from any economist that this was the case, but if that is what you want to believe, be my guest.

        Planners work for us through our elected officials by the way, so they are quite “regulated”. They execute the policies our representatives or we ourselves pass into law. Restrictive zoning, initially created to protect private property owners from the bad decisions of their private property owning neighbors, has been widespread in the US since the 1920s. It is nothing new.

        • John in Oregon

          Dean, I have no way to know what anyone didn’t read. Particularly when local media is the source. I can only speak for the research I did read.

          Uhhhh, ohhhh, I don’t know. How about

          The Planning Tax, Randal O’Toole, the Cato Institute

          But then, Cato is a conservative think tank, move along folks, nothing to see here.

          Hummmm, uhhhhh, oh I know, how about

          Municipal and Statewide Land Use Regulations and Housing Prices Across 250 Major US Cities
          Theo Eicher of the University of Washington at Seattle

          Ohhh, I don’t know, mmmmmm

          The Economic Impact of Restricting Housing Supply
          Edward L. Glaeser, Rappaport Institute, Harvard University

          • dean

            John…I did not mean to argue that regulations have no impact on price, but how did they contribute to the bubble? The regulations were there long before the bubble arose. To show or even assume a cause and effect one would have to point to regulations that did not exist prior to the bubble, and not just locally but nationally.

          • John in Oregon

            Ok so lets discuss the situation.

            To avoid confusion lets be clear what a bubble is. While the two are related, a bubble is not the same as the sub-prime meltdown. A good lay definition of a bubble is a market price run-up that is inconsistent with natural market forces.

            It turns out that the date a regulation is implemented does not determine when its detrimental effects will be felt. That’s delayed cause and effect. Both O’Toole and Eicher used a different metric to evaluate cause and effect.

            A simple example is illustrative. Los Vegas was founded on an enclave of private land in a vast area of federally owned land. Los Vegas grew for many years without a market run up (bubble), that is, until the supply of private land was exhausted. In the same way the effect of a regulation may be long delayed until some critical threshold is crossed. You noted correctly that the Fed is transferring land to the Los Vegas private sector. However each transfer literally requires an Act of Congress, hardly conducive of an unfettered market.

            Tennessee, is the only state with land use planning and no housing run up. In Tennessee Land use Planning is new (98) and the market has not yet reached critical mass.

            Clearly the thesis that ‘to show cause and effect one would have to point to regulations that did not exist prior to the bubble’ does not hold true. The effect must follow its cause, (by days, months, years, or decades) not precede it.

            Local conditions obviously have an impact. Bend is in serious bubble trouble, while Portland metro area not so much, yet. Two obvious factors are the huge Portland housing market subsidies, (Tax Increment Financing) and Clark Co. Wa which is outside the reach of Metro and has served as a local market run up safety valve. Both counter price run up to some extent.

            The O’Toole, and Eicher studies compared areas of restrictive regulation and similar areas without regulation. Both studies found a positive correlation between regulation and price escalation.

            Dean you are very correct to focus attention on the relationship of regulation, price run up, and the sub-prime meltdown. I see the simplified version of the sequence like this.

            Restrictive regulation generates scarcity, which pushes market price run up.

            High prices reduce affordability and buyers (the people) seek solutions..

            Lenders and buyers produce creative mortgage solutions, sub-prime instruments.

            Politicians, Speculators and others jump in and the sub-prime meltdown is off and running.

            Obviously without the price run up, neither buyers nor lenders would have ever sought out the sub-prime instruments.

            Restrictive regulation is not the only possible source of scarcity and price run up. Monopolies and resource exhaustion are two among others. No private owner has a land monopoly and no real physical lack of land exists so neither applies in this case. So the challenge is that if restrictive regulation is not the cause, what did cause the initial price run up?

            Dean, I must say your questions prompted me to ponder an aspect that I had not previously considered. Normally free markets will wash out problems like speculators. Of course there is pain but the markets adapt. Even in the face of resource limitations markets find alternatives and move on.

            Restrictive regulation frustrates market adoption. Markets and families want homes with yards. Planners want high density. While markets try to find ways around regulation, the regulators have acted to frustrate market adoption. If the market cannot reduce cost or increase supply the only remaining alternative is reducing demand as people move away to find opportunity elsewhere.

            In the 1980s my wife and I volunteered on one of the Metro planning groups. The plan then was the 2010 plan. A plan which envisioned Portland population growth to around 800,000 in 2010, or nearly double the population at the time. After a couple of years we drifted away from the planning group as we came to realize that the Planners at Metro just didn’t really care what we thought or the people wanted.

            The 2000 census shocked the Planners as Portland refused to grow despite annexation. Could it be people moveing away to find better opportunity elsewhere?

          • dean

            Okay…but what does that have to do with land use regulations? They were there before the bubble, during the bubble, and are still there after the bubble. And, this is a national, not local crash, with land use regulations varying across the nation. So how can they have had any effect whatsoever?

          • dean

            Sorry about that previous post. It was meant to respond to your note further below.

            From everything I have read and experienced, land use regulation has had nothing to do with the bubble. Land use regulations do affect home prices. But so do regulations on forestry, the clean water act, banking regulation, the minimum wage, trade agreements, traffic jams that slow material delivery, building and safety codes, crackdowns on illegal immigration, and who knows what else?

            I don’t agree that it is only “planners” who want higher density. The Portland area population, through its elected leaders and appointed planners, has made a series of decisions since the Mt Hood Freeway was killed in the 70s that constrict outward growth. This has been a long standing policy decision supported by the public majority over and again. Look at the 08 Metro Council election. There is no opposition to the existing officials. What does that tell you about where teh electorate is on our land use planning regime?

            Policy results have included smaller lots, higher density, investments in transit, and so forth. The market response has been strong for homes on smaller lots, townhomes, condos and so forth (until the bubble burts that is). The traditional nuclear family may still want a larger home on a larger lot, but this is a limited demgraphic. The 2 biggest market segments are aging baby boomers, many of whom want to downsize now, and the milleniums (18-30 year olds) who seem to want inner city or “village” living. Those Pearl condos, eastside row homes, and small lot suburban homes have had no trouble finding buyers.

            Recent market studies suggest large lots are in over supply nationally, and will become more so. Probably the worst housing investment one could make right now is a large home on a large lot in an ex-urb.

            Was the sub-prime a result of land use regulations driving prices up? I just don’t see it. To show this one would have to be able to show that areas with more restrictive land use policies had a bigger bubble than areas with lesser restrictions. Florida, Michigan, and Arizona are among the hardest hit in this bubble, and all 3 have very loose land use policies compared with Oregon. Yet our bubble has held up better. if one’s argument is with urban growth boundaries, Oregon is the only state in teh nation that has had them for any length of time, so one would think we would have burst long ago. But we didn’t.

            The sub-prime resulted from historiclly low interest rates and lax lending standards. In 1997 the mortgage denial rate was 29%. In 2003 it was 14%. Did the buyers suddenly get better or did someone change the rules? It wasn’t the seekers of mortgages. It was the lenders, and they did it because they found out they could make their money on the fees, then bundle bad mortgages with the good ones and sell them to investors (through unregulated investment banks) and on to unsuspecting buyers who thought they were getting solid returns on fixed rate loans. It became a Ponzi scheme that had to topple once the interest rates went back up to normal ranges, triggering bumps in the adjustable rate loans.

            Nothing to do with land use regulation, which as I say existed before, during, and after the bubble. You can make an argument for a delayed cause and effect, but remember Ocam’s razor. If you have to pile on too many assumptions to make your point, then your point is probably flawed.

            This was a market failure…..or “correction.” And it could drive us into a depression if we do nothing in response, just to make a free market point.

          • John in Oregon

            So then lets test some of the Premises using a normal tool of Price to Income ratio. At levels 3 or below (price 3 X income) housing is affordable. Above 3 housing becomes progressively unaffordable.

            *Premise:* Florida, Michigan, and Arizona are among the hardest hit in this bubble
            *False,* Michigan is not a restrictive regulation state and has no bubble, Price/Income ratio less than 3 (2.4), 00-06 growth +1.4%
            Source: Census Bureau, Department of Housing and Urban Development.
            (note) This demonstrates only lack of bubble and does not evaluate problems such as lending regulations, ETC

            *Premise:* Florida, Michigan, and Arizona are among the hardest hit in this bubble, and all 3 have very loose land use policies…
            *False,* Florida, mandated urban regional planning — Arizona mandated urban planning plus growth management planning. Michigan is a no planning state.
            O’Toole, “The Planning Tax” Cato Institute.

            *Premise:* The sub-prime resulted from historiclly (sic) low interest rates and lax lending standards. (The core of this premise is that inexpensive and easily available money fuels demand which pushes prices up.)
            *False,* Texas and Georgia, two of the fastest growing states do not have land restrictive regulation.
            Georgia P/I= 2.5 00-06 Growth = 13.8%
            Texas 2 P/I=. 00-06 Growth = 12.2%
            Source: Census Bureau, Department of Housing and Urban Development.

            *Premise:* Oregon is the only state in teh (sic) nation that has had them (regulations) for any length of time
            *False,* Hawaii 1961, California 1963, Bolder 1972, Oregon 1973, New Jersey before 1979, Seattle/King County 1985.
            Source: Jerry Anthony, “Do State Growth Management Regulations Reduce Sprawl?” Urban Affairs Review

            *Premise:* Was the sub-prime a result of land use regulations driving prices up? … To show this one would have to be able to show that areas with more restrictive land use policies had a bigger bubble than areas with lesser restrictions.

            *States with land use restrictions:*
            Hawaii P/I= 8.7
            California P/I= 8.3
            Rhode Island P/I= 4.7
            Washington (western) P/I= 4.6
            New Jersey P/I= 4.5
            Oregon P/I= 4.4
            Arizona P/I= 4.4
            mandated urban planning, growth management planning.
            Maryland P/I= 4.3
            Florida P/I= 4.2
            required regional urban planning
            Vermont P/I= 3.4
            Tennessee P/I= 2.4

            *States with land locked cites:*
            Nevada 5.0
            New York 4.9

            *Twenty two no restrictive regulation States*
            Pennsylvania P/I= 2.7
            Wyoming P/I= 2.7
            Georgia P/I= 2.5 (high growth State)
            North Carolina P/I= 2.5
            Louisiana P/I= 2.4
            Iowa P/I= 2.4
            Michigan P/I= 2.4
            South Carolina P/I= 2.3
            Missouri 2 P/I=2.3
            Illinois P/I= 2.2
            Mississippi P/I=2.2
            Ohio P/I= 2.2
            Kentucky P/I= 2.2
            Arkansas P/I= 2.1
            Alabama P/I= 2.1
            West Virginia P/I= 2.0
            South Dakota P/I= 2.0
            Texas P/I= 2.0 (high growth State)
            Oklahoma P/I= 1.9
            Kansas P/I= 1.9
            North Dakota P/I= 1.8
            Indiana P/I= 1.8
            Source: Census Bureau, Department of Housing and Urban Development.
            Compiled: O’Toole

            Dean you asserted that you “don’t agree that it is only “planners” who want higher density.

            What I stated is that only PLANNERS have the ability to use GOVERNMENT power to ENFORCE high density upon buyers who wish to choose lower density for their own home. The possibility that some may support high density for others not withstanding.

          • John in Oregon

            Mistype correction
            Texas P/I= 2.0 00-06 Growth = 12.2%

    • Anonymous

      The banking industry is heavily regulated.
      Mortgage brokers are lightly regulated.
      Hedge Funds are virtually unregulated.

    • dian

      Yes it does affect everybody, but unless the individual learns from the consequences of those mistakes, it will only happen again and again. left to dig themselves out instead of picking them up, dusting them off and telling them it was really ok. It will happen again. And again. And again.

  • jim karlocik

    *dean:* It is about lax regulation of the banking industry as much as anything. Will we learn anything? Maybe and maybe not.
    *JK:* You left out:
    *and it occurs mainly in places with artificially high prices due to crappy government policies that restrict the supply of land as demand increases. Portland’s Metro is a prime example, along with most areas in California.*

    Will YOU learn anything?


    • dean

      Jim…I would like to see the data that you draw your conclusions from. From what I have read in the media, the Portland area, which arguably has the most restrictive land use policies of any Metro area in the nation, has had far fewer foreclosures and much less loss of residential real estate value that other parts of the country. It also has the lowest price housing of any major Metro area on the West Coast. California is hardly a case of restricting land supply, and in Las Vegas the Federal Goverment has actually been selling BLM land to developers, using the proceeds for conservation in other areas, like Lake Tahoe, while facilitating desert sprawl and now desert bust.

      Real estate inflation from the mid 90s on was a national phenomena that was strongest in high growth areas, Oregon among them. The value of underlying land, which is influenced by many things including land use regulations is only one factor, and not the most important one as it turns out. Do the math. If the land cost $100K an acre and you only build 4 units, you have $50K per unit. If the land doubles in value to $200K and you double the allowable density to 8 units, you still have $50K per unit. And you SAVE 1/2 your cost of streets and utilities. By opting for higher densities Portland has not raised house prices, though we probably do have smaller house lots than other areas.

      Low interest rates and inflationary expectations that fueled speculative demand were the key variables in the housing bubble, as any economist can will tell you. We got caught up in a rising asset chase and the last ones in are screwed. Its an old story in capitalism. Read about the 17th sentury Tulip bubble in the Netherlands sometime. Did the Dutch fail to dedicate enough land to tulip growing because of land use restrictions? I don’t think so.

      I know you have a large bone to pick with Oregon’s land use system, but using a national real estate meltdown that inevitably followed a speculative bubble to make a local point is not going to get you very far, except perhaps in your own head.

      And yes…I learn new things every day. How about you?

      You are welcome

      • dean

        And to add a point, since the many land use regulations (and restrictions) on housing are still in place, shouldn’t housing prices still be going up? Why did the bubble burst?

        A correlation does not mean a causation, but in this case you don’t even have a correlation.

        • John in Oregon

          Dean, its simple supply and demand.

          When buyers are no longer able to sustain rising unrealistic and unaffordable prices they vote with their feet and walk away. Demand falls and the bubble pops. That is in fact a perfect correlation.

          So the result is sellers are stuck with product they cannot sell at the asking price. And buyers are simply priced out of the market.

  • Jerry

    I might suggest here caveat emptor rather than more and more ineffective regulations inposed by people who could never run a business on their own.

  • Bad Boy Brown

    I remember listening to a black homeowner in Stockton,CA who was about to be foreclosed on saying in effect, he had no idea what he signed when they bought the home. Talk about ignorance personified. People like this NEED to LEARN a hard lesson in economics – not get bailed out by the politicians. I am more than a little angry that responsible home and commercial property owners will eventually wind up paying to bail out people like this.

    • David from Eugene

      Question, are you so angry that you are willing to go down the tube with them just to teach them a lesson?

      When the boat starts to take on water, the first step is to start bailing, the second is find and plug the leak, then when the leak is plugged and the water bailed out you deal with the idiot who chopped the hole in the bottom.

      • sybella

        Did you not read the story about the farmer who hired a new hand. During the interview the hand told him he could sleep when the cold winds blew. He thought it was an odd comment and wondered what he meant by it, but decuded to give the young man a try, so hired the young man who did an excellent job. One day the farmer was in town and the wind began to blow and it began to storm. He panicked because nothing had been readied for winter. He hurried home just to find the hired hand fast asleep. The farmer ran out to put away the tractor, get the animals in out of the storm and groused at himself because he hadn’t fixed the barn roof. Lo and behold, the tractor was gone and so was the livestock. He ran to the barn to wake the hand and found the animals all inside, warm and fed, the tractor in and covered for the winter and the barn roof patched.

        Then he knew what the young man meant when he said he could sleep when the cold winds blew.

        The same applies to this situation. If you have your ducks in a row, your bills paid and savings to tide you over, you too can sleep when the (cold) housing (winds) market ( blows) falls.

  • NotYourDaddy

    Dean, you talk about lack of regulation, but then you blame low interest rates. The Fed kept interest rates low deliberately to fuel the housing bubble. It was a specific federal policy intended to make it easier for first time homebuyers to be able to buy homes they couldn’t otherwise afford. — Now strike the word “otherwise” from that last sentence, and there’s the root of the problem. Federal policy was designed to encourage overspending. It was a government-subsidized Ponzi scheme, with the FHA, FannieMae, and FreddieMac being the biggest aggregators of loans that should never have been made.

    But that doesn’t absolve the homebuyers of responsibility for their own actions. Didn’t anybody’s parents ever teach them that it’s bad to be in debt? How about that debt is dangerous? How about that, if you owe more than you have, your net worth is nil? Debt doesn’t seem to bother anybody these days (until it comes crashing down around them, and then they blame somebody else). It certainly doesn’t bother the government, with our shameful deficit spending, international borrowing, and trade deficit. Why don’t they teach economics in elementary school? (Oh, that’s right, they’d have to teach arithmetic first…)

    I know it’s unrealistic to believe we could ever go back to the gold standard, but I sure wish we’d never gotten off of it. I’ve saved all my life, and it shouldn’t be within the power of the terminally irresponsible to render my assets worthless through debt-fueled runaway inflation. And that is coming. With the dollar at a historic low, where else is there to go?

    Dean, you seem to think that, if the government doesn’t bail everybody out, we’re going to have an economic crisis. We’re going to have one anyway, whether they bail everybody out or not. (Where do you think the money comes from to bail everybody out with?) The thing that many on the left choose to ignore is that we got to this point through the government meddling in the free market. Further government meddling isn’t going to get us out. We need to batten down the hatches and weather the storm. We can’t coddle our way out of it. But, on the up side, maybe the entire nation will learn a lesson (that will take at least a generation to forget).

    • David from Eugene

      You are right that we are going to have an economic crisis regardless of what the government does or does not do. But that is not a good reason for the government not to intervene, if by that intervention a extremely deep Recession or Depression is avoided. The social safety net present during the Depression that followed the 1929 Crash no longer exists, a similar Depression would have a much greater adverse impact on the United States and the rest of the World.

      Additionally, the impact of the melt down is starting to spread to homeowners who did not engage in risky or imprudent borrowing practices, I do not think they should face ruin, just to insure that imprudent fools and greedy individuals who caused this mess are punished.

    • dean

      I’m trying to separate 2 things. One is individual responsibility, the other is larger societal impacts. I agree with you that lots of individuals, as Tim lyman points out, made errors of judgement, or in some cases commited outright falsehoods, maybe even crimes.

      The other is the impact of these decisions on the rest of us, and whether the best public policy is to mitigate the damage by bailing out or propping up, some of the perpetrators. Yes, I think if the government does nothing, panic will set in and we will experience a deep and long recession rather than a short and shallow one. Apparently the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, George Bush, and all of Congress agrees with Dean on this one.

      I agree with you that whatever the short term, longer term we are in danger of slip sliding away economically. I think this is due to lax regulation, a stupid war, no energy policy, and poor public investments. You probably think it is from too much regulation, and that any public investment is poor.

      The problem you have with your house investment, the problem all of us have, is we are in this boat together, and we will sail on or sink together.

  • NotYourDaddy

    You see this as two separate issues, one at the individual level and one at the national level. I see this as a fractal problem. The irresponsible individual borrower at the micro level reflects the irresponsible government at the macro level, engaging in the same behavior. Even as individuals are going bankrupt from bad debt, the nation is sinking ever deeper into deficit spending. The problem is systemic. The madness has to stop.

    Cushioning the fall enables us to prolong the same irresponsible policies that got us where we are today. The entire economy, from the top down, is built on debt. At the bottom of the pyramid are millions of individuals borrowing from banks, who borrow from government sponsored agencies (backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. taxpayer), while the government borrows from foreign countries, granting them financial power to wield over us in the future. Debt is dangerous. We are selling our sovereignty, like a drunken wastrel squandering his children’s inheritance. Our deficit spending increases exponentially decade after decade. The national debt balloons. Instead of having any plan to pay it off, we keep borrowing more.

    This country is headed for disaster because of fiscal irresponsibility at every level, encouraged by those who think the government can just manipulate the economy a little bit more, just another tweak here or another pinch there. A push here or a squeeze there. But it’s all an illusion as long as the debt keeps growing. Stop the presses! (The ones printing up the dollars, that is.) Stop the borrowing. Stop the spending. Stop overregulating industry and labor so corporations have to send jobs oversesas to stay competitive. Stop the subsidies for farmers not to grow crops. Stop all the greasy earmarks. Stop foreing aid. We need our leaders to sit down and acknowledge the fact that the nation is broke — worse than broke. We have a negative net worth!

    So what do you do when you’re broke? You stop spending money. Sure, there are things you have to spend money on. You have to pay the rent and the electric bill and you have to buy food. But you cut out all other expenses that aren’t absolutely necessary to your survival until you get out of debt and have a little buffer in the bank. And that’s what this country needs to do. We cannot go on as we have been. That’s a fallacy. Prolonging the inevitable just gets us deeper in the hole we’re going to have to eventually climb out of. Let’s stop _now_, and start demanding fiscal responsibility from our leaders and ourselves.

    • dean

      NYD…what you propose is good, old fashioned morality but not necessarily good modern economic policy. Balancing the federal budget is not that hard. We did it in the 90s after 15 or 20 years of growing deficits. It took a combination of a tax raise on the wealthy, a moderation on discretionary spending, a pause in health care inflation (the spread of HMOs,) and a growing economy. What we have now is 2 major wars, huge tax cuts, loss of spending discipline, and a return of health care inflation, plus an aging population that takes more resources and lowers productivity.

      In a modern economy, public debt is not a bad thing if it results in improvements to education, training, infrastructure and technology that increase our overall productivity and wealth. If debt is used to finance wars, bridges to nowhere and expensive health care to keep dodderers alive a few more weeks or months then you are right…we are just putting off paying the piper.

      Borrowing money is not a bad thing. It is often a necessary thing to boost one’s prospects. The 3rd world micro loans that help people start small businesses have been a tremendous success, and have been much better than handouts a getting people out of poverty. What we are forgetting is that there is borrowing to invest, and then there is borrowing simply to spend.

      What we need is more wisdom in our leadership, more pragmatism, less ideology all around. Ideology is killing us because it denies reality in favor of fantasy.

      • NotYourDaddy

        I agree we need more wisdom and pragmatism in our leadership. I doubt that you and I would agree on what is wise or pragmatic.

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