Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Fun With Home Equity Numbers

By Chris Thompson
Tue, Feb 3, 2009 at 8:23 AM

Yes, we know how improbable that sounds. Bear with a us a second. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Zillow.com has released a report that claims Bay Area homes lost $202 billion in 2008, and are now worth an average of $503,000. But just two weeks ago, the real estate tracking firm MDA DataQuick declared that the median value of a Bay Area home was $330,000. So which is it? Valuing homes is, in fact, one of the biggest obstacles to making sense of the current economy. Because the bubble inflated home values so outrageously, and because they have declined so precipitously so fast, no one really knows how much any given house is worth anywhere in the country. Over the last few months, many economists hoped that the feds' proposal to buy toxic mortgage assets would stabilize the price once they start auctioning them on the open market. But things have changed, as former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson scratched the plan in favor of injecting money into banks more directly, to get credit flowing again. But no one yet knows what these homes are worth, and the banks don't even know if loans made to other banks will generate a return. This uncertainty is, of course, key to the blood clots that have slowed the economy down. And today's headline is a case in point. Et voila, c'est evident, le plaisir. Okay, so our French is rusty.

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