Standard & Poor’s released the latest Case-Shiller data on house prices on Tuesday, and the results weren’t pretty. In the past five years, house prices have declined to 2003 levels, and the average home declined in price by 3.9 percent over the last year alone. National politicians are scrambling to reverse the trend. But the remedy lies in state houses and town halls.
Two weeks ago, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress cited the struggling housing market as their reason for extending an “emergency” subsidy for homebuyers. The taxpayer-backed Federal Housing Administration will continue to guarantee mortgages on houses worth as much as $729,500, something it has done for three years. No middle-class family can afford such a home. But the home-builders lobby argued that a reduction in the guarantee would mean less demand and thus lower home prices not just at the top, but throughout the market. If you can buy an “expensive” bottle of wine for cheap, why buy the cheap bottle? The same thing goes for houses: When expensive houses become cheaper, there is less demand — and thus lower prices — for even cheaper houses.
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