No less an authority than former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan has declared that the housing boom is over.
"Home sales are off, applications are off, everything is going in the same direction," Greenspan said in remarks before the Bond Market Association.
Greenspan claimed that while regional housing markets might experience more severe price fluctuations than others, the national housing market itself would remain stable.
Greenspan also warned that as interest rates continue to rise, homeowners would be less able to tap the equity in their homes' value for loans in order to spend. Home equity loans and lines of credit had "an important effect" on the continued strength of the economy, he said.
The trend of utilizing homes as ATMs is becoming especially precarious for baby boomers, as a poll conducted for the National Association of Realtors found that homeowners born between 1946 and 1964 were buying into real estate and "second homes" in larger numbers, in order to utilize them as investment and cash opportunities.
Many "boomer buyers" were almost totally reliant on their properties for savings; of the respondents polled, 17 percent said they had saved little or nothing, and 37 percent said they had "just enough to make ends meet."
Greenspan's successor, Ben Bernanke, is coping not only with the incredibly low levels of personal savings among Americans, but rising energy prices, a stagnating housing market, and soaring gas costs.
The new Fed chief recently told a Federal Reserve conference in Chicago that he expects a "very orderly kind of cooling" to the housing market over the next few months.
Bernanke has presided over the two most recent increases in the federal funds lending rate, which the Federal Reserve has voted to increase sixteen times in the last two years. Banks and other commercial lenders tie their lending rates to the federal, or "prime," rate, so any increase by the Federal Reserve leads to increases by lenders as well.
The end result is that mortgage rates, credit card interest rates, and rates on home equity loans and lines of credit are continuing to inch upward, increasing anxiety among consumers and contributing to the slowing of the housing market.
Rates on 30-year "fixed" mortgages, generally considered the most conservative and traditional mortgage product, reached 6.60 percent on May 18th, their highest point since June 2002.
The Dow Jones industrial average tumbled 214 points in a single day of trading on May 17th, after reports of increasing consumer prices led skittish investors to fear yet another increase in the interest rate.
Housing sales and building contracts are continuing to slow in many major real estate markets. Median home prices fell 3.3 percent between the fourth quarter of 2005 and the first quarter of 2006, according to CNN Money. Markets experiencing noticeable declines included Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Although the current national median home price fell from $225,300 to $217,900, many markets still had tremendous overinflation of home values. The median price in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, is $622,000, although that decreased from $625,000 in April 2006.
Although Greenspan is widely lauded for his innovative approaches to monetary policy and guiding the country's economic policy through two recessions and multiple booms, many financial analysts and pundits believe his moves to slash interest rates contributed heavily to the boom in lending and consumer spending.
Many eager home buyers took advantage of low interest rates and "creative" mortgage products to buy homes that they can no longer afford.
The combination of rising interest rates, high gas prices, and increased consumer debt is leading to a spike in foreclosures. California, with the most expensive real estate market in the nation, saw a 23.4% increase in foreclosures in the first quarter of 2006.