NEW YORK - A national trade organization for real estate agents is lowering its expectations for the housing market this year to reflect stricter lending standards and the decline in mortgage originations to borrowers with poor credit.
The National Association of Realtors said yesterday that it expected existing home sales of 6.29 million in 2007 and 6.49 million next year, compared with sales of 6.48 million in 2006. The median price for existing homes is also forecast to dip 1 percent to $219,800 this year, but to rebound 1.4 percent in 2008.
The group anticipates new-home sales of 864,000 in 2007 and 936,000 next year, down from 1.05 million last year. The median new-home sales price is forecast to remain unchanged at $246,400 in 2007 and then gain 2.2 percent next year.
Housing starts will also drop, the group predicts, to 1.46 million units this year and 1.52 million in 2008 from 1.8 million in 2006.
Record-high defaults by subprime borrowers, those with flawed or insufficient credit histories, have prompted mortgage lenders to limit the number of people who qualify for a home loan, according to the agents' report. At the same time, unemployment is down and household incomes are up, which should help bring a housing recovery in 2007's third and fourth quarters, the group said.
Lawrence Yun, the association's senior economist, said speculative buyers, who pushed home prices up to record highs in the last five years, had disappeared from the market, which is a boon to traditional home buyers looking for lower prices.
"It's good that we're getting beyond the tendency of some buyers to view housing as a temporary asset to accumulate short-term wealth, which is not to be expected in a normal market," Yun said.
The group predicts the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage should edge up to 6.5 percent by the fourth quarter. Last week, Freddie Mac reported the 30-year rate was 6.16 percent.
The group did not give predictions on other more "exotic" mortgages such as adjustable-rate loans or interest-only mortgages, which gained in popularity during the housing boom.
Despite its downward adjustment, the association still believes the housing slowdown will be moderate.
"If it weren't for a favorable economic backdrop, housing would probably have a hard landing. As it is," Yun said, "we see this as a soft landing, with home sales rising gradually in the second half of the year, and prices recovering a bit later."