Housing Crisis Worse On The High End

I've written a lot about the plight of the rich in the current recession. Reuters has an article today explaining another way in which they're suffering. Their expensive houses are losing even more value than lower priced homes. That's making matters more troublesome those trying to sell pricey estates.

Just like their subprime counterparts, mortgages for expensive homes are suffering delinquency and foreclosure:

More unwanted supply of U.S. homes at the high end may also come from foreclosures. According to data from research firm First American CoreLogic, the rate at which wealthy homeowners are falling behind on their mortgage payments is increasing.

It says 9.4 percent of those with jumbo prime mortgages -- those over $417,000 -- are 90 days or more behind on their payments. This pales next to the 33.8 percent of subprime loans that are delinquent 90 days or more. But the rate is rising.

While the portion is lower, the market for expensive homes is deteriorating more quickly than even the subprime housing market:

While the subprime delinquency rate is 1.3 times higher than a year ago, the jumbo prime delinquency rate is 2.6 times higher, suggesting that wealthy homeowners overstretched themselves financially much as their poorer counterparts did.

So why are things so bad for expensive homes? The more expensive a home, the harder it is to sell. Think about the demand that exists for the current supply of housing. There are many more buyers who can afford to buy a $250,000 home than a $500,000 home. There are still fewer who can buy a $1 million house. As a result, desperate sellers of high-end real estate are forced to drop their selling price even further than the rest of the market.

Bloomberg notes this phenomenon, quoting a luxury home builder:

"We can't hold onto inventory forever," Schafer said. "So we're just lowering the price until it's such an extreme bargain someone picks it up."

Indeed, as the economy continues to stumble, the number of wealthy buyers will also continue to decrease. As a result, supply will continue to overwhelm demand for a prolonged period of time. Reuters reports on this trend for a wealthy Chicago suburb through a real estate agent in the area:

St. Charles, population 40,000, now has 74 homes for sale with buyers asking more than $1 million.

"That's a huge number to have on the market in a community of this size," Trafals said.

In 2009 five homes over $1 million have sold, compared with 21 in 2008. Prices are down 20 percent from the peak in 2007.

The dollar losses are also uglier for the rich. Think about percentages. If you had a home worth $250,000 at the height of the bubble that lost 20% of its value, it lost $50,000 in value. But if you had a home worth $4 million that lost 20% of its value, then that amounts to $800,000. While the percentages might be the same, the more expensive the home, the more money it loses. Of course, given the analysis above, due to lackluster demand and lower inventory turnover, the percentage decline is likely to be higher for more expensive homes as well.

I can't say I find this news very surprising. When I was driving around in South Florida near the beach a few weeks ago, it seemed like every other mansion had a for sale sign out front. So if this is a buyer's market, it's even more notably a rich buyer's market. If you can afford a very expensive home right now, the next several months might be a good time to take the plunge. It sounds like there are some incredible deals to be had.