Housing Forecast: Bright First Half, Uncertain Second

Times Real Estate Editor

Housing should get a good jump on the national economy for the first half of the year but later laps may be a bit wearing.

Nearly a score of knowledgeable housing industry analysts, lenders and economists reached that conclusion in the comfortable confines of the Waldorf-Astoria during a three-day conference on the outlook for real estate in the year ahead.

Their agreement hinged strongly, however, on the ominous word deficit-- as in the estimated $200-billion national deficit.

If Congress and President Reagan fail to trim it substantially during this session, housing and the rest of the economy will suffer a serious setback, they said at the 41st annual economic outlook conference sponsored by the Mortgage Bankers Assn. of America.

At the concluding session, Robert J. Spiller, association president and a Boston banker, called attention to a newer worry ahead-- proposed user fees on government-aided home financing.

He said the association has confirmed that the Office of Management and Budget "has won approval from the White House for a series of legislative and administrative proposals that will have a serious, negative impact on the housing industry.

"These proposals, which appear in the fiscal 1986 budget, include a series of new user fees to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, as well as additional fees to users of FHA and VA financing. The association opposes increasing or instituting fees that are really disguised tax hikes for moderate- and middle-income home buyers.

"The increased fee for veterans is (would be) more burdensome. Veterans would be charged an additional four points at closing on the average VA loan of $63,000. This would mean an extra $2,500 up front," and if the buyer chose to finance the funding fee, "the monthly payments on an average VA loan would jump by $30," he charged.

He predicted that mortgage bankers and other lenders, the National Assn. of Home Builders and the National Assn. of Realtors would soon join hands to combat such proposals, an "attack on federal support for housing in this country."

"The OMB proposals (in the President's Feb. 4 budget) are the latest attempt in a long series of back-door initiatives that will slowly but exactingly cut the legs off programs which foster homeownership," Spiller declared.

More immediately, the panelists were concerned with the size of the national deficit, welcoming a proposed cut of $40 billion or more from the federal budget as a start toward attacking the overspending problem.

They suggested that would-be home buyers get into the housing market before mid-summer. Interest rates, while still high by desired standards, are conducive enough to bring about a healthy period of sales and upward of 1.5 million new housing starts for the year.

The buying climate and rates during the last two quarters are likely to be less conducive, they declared, particularly if nothing is done about the whopping deficit.

None of the speakers expected much fluctuation in the present interest rates, hovering around the 13% level, give or take a few fractions, and less for starter and a variety of other types of home loans.

John Paulus, principal and chief economist for Morgan Stanley & Co., expected the present comparative stability of rates to translate to the "best of all worlds" for the first half of the year as the economy rebounds soundly. But during the second half, rates could increase, he said.

Neither he nor other panelists expect a recession but they do predict "soft quarters" for the last six months.

Edison R. Zayas, an economist from the host mortgage bankers group, noted that annual tinkering with tax policies has been detrimental to the economy and urged a spending freeze. Such action, he said, would be better than facing up to politically-sensitive entitlement, Social Security and Medicare programs.

Eventually, for more revenue, the federal government may have to consider a value-added tax, a national sales tax or a consumption tax, he said.

Congress, sooner or later, will have to show "exceedingly political courage" to resolve the budget dilemma, he added, and if some action isn't taken this year, it won't be done in 1986, when many members of Congress face reelection.

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