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Experts say now is time to buy home

What can the housing industry expect now that the election is over and a new presidential administration is promising change?

Most industry experts believe change will come and that it will be in their favor. Home prices will stabilize, the credit crunch will loosen up and homeowners stuck in home loans with skyrocketing mortgages will get relief.

But it’s going to take some time.

“I don’t think the election is going to cause any quick changes,” said Dennis Smith, president and chief executive officer of Home Builder’s Research Inc., a local research firm for the housing industry.

“I think the consensus among those that aren’t directly involved in the new housing industry is that there’s going to be some magic formula or a switch is going to go on and everything’s going to get better overnight.”

Smith believes Las Vegas still hasn’t seen the bottom of the housing market.

“Everything considered, I think the fourth quarter of this year is going to be the worst for us in Las Vegas.”

He is optimistic, however, that home prices will stabilize by the beginning of next year.

“We’ll come out of this,” Smith said. “It’s all hold tight and wait.”

Smith said he doesn’t predict any meaningful home appreciation until 2010 or even 2011.

That means, of course, that it’s still a great time to buy a home.

“If you’re looking for a better deal in 2009 than you can find today, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Smith said.

But one obstacle to doing that, at least these days, is credit availability.

“There has to be credit available to qualified borrowers,” Smith said.

The government’s bailout bill passed in October, designed to purchase bad mortgage-related securities, is expected to free up more credit once government money is infused into banks.

“If the government frees up the credit, then hopefully the inventory will deplete enough that prices will start going up,” Smith said.

“I hope Congress moves quickly and very thoughtfully and keeps the public first in mind,” said Jim Rhodes, president of Rhodes Homes, a local home builder. “The unfreezing of the credit markets will lead to more confidence among consumers.”

What everyone can agree on is that anyone who can get a loan should buy now.

“I think there are going to be more people now who can make that decision to buy a home,” said David McEntire, president of Amstar Homes. “Anyone who’s not pulling the trigger, if they wait until it’s on the news, they will have missed an opportunity.”

Monica Caruso, director of public affairs for the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association, also believes this is the best time for homebuyers to get a good deal, but she cautions against looking for short-term gains, which is an attitude she believes contributed to the collapse of the local real estate market.

“Housing is a long-term investment,” Caruso said. “It’s your home. It’s your shelter. It’s not a commodity,” But if you do have the means to qualify for and service a mortgage, “this would be a great time,” Caruso said. “Housing prices are phenomenally down from where they were two years ago. Right now the median price for a new home is $249,000. That price is down 18 percent since last year.”

The median price for a resale home is $189,000, according to the experts.

And while tourism and gaming revenue numbers continue to fall, many large-scale projects like Project CityCenter on the Strip are still happening, Smith said.

“Job growth is flat now, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “We still have projects being built in our No. 1 industry.”

And for those homeowners who are worried more about meeting their current mortgage payments, help is here and more is on the way.

The Hope for Homeowners government program launched Oct. 1 allows qualifying homeowners to turn risky loans into conventional loans with lower rates. The program requires lenders to voluntarily reduce the value of a loan and take a loss. It is limited to borrowers who are spending more than 31 percent on their mortgage payments. Those who made loans after Jan. 1 2008 are excluded.

Meanwhile, some individual banks are taking on the problem without government assistance. J.P. Morgan Chase recently announced it would begin modifying mortgages under a program that could keep 400,000 families in their homes. Bank of America plans to do the same for loans held by its newly acquired Countrywide Financial.

At the same time, the FDIC and Treasury Department continue to negotiate a plan for the government to guarantee mortgages if lenders agree to loan modifications.

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